Prior to COVID shutting down the state, Ms. Ames* was starting fresh making the move from Miami to Tallahassee with her 3 children. She placed a security deposit on a new place for $1650 only to find on move in day that her new home had been rented to someone else!

Ms. Ames applied to Legal Services for assistance to recover her security deposit in our self-help Tenants Equal Justice Clinic designed to assist Miami Dade County residents in filing claims in local courts. Her case was assigned to Elle Hayes, an associate attorney at McDermott Will and Emery. Elle’s practice focuses on renewable energy transactions and general corporate matters. Instead of turning the case away because it was filed outside of Miami-Dade, Elle did the extra research and outreach contacting the Leon County Clerk of Court. Elle made the proper draft changes to the small claims documents so they would conform with Leon County Court guidelines, as well as accessed how Leon County Courts were handling COVID closures and hearings. Most importantly Elle devised the best strategy for Ms. Ames to proceed quickly to get her security deposit back so she and her children would not be homeless in Miami.

Elle went into full pre-litigation mode. She drafted a detailed and firm security deposit demand letter citing all the legal violations along with supporting caselaw. When the landlord failed to return the security deposit by the designated deadline, Elle had already equipped Ms. Ames with the court fee waivers, pleadings, and alternate COVID method of Service of Process. Elle coached Ms. Ames on the mediation and remote hearing process advising her on how to use all the evidence to support her claim.

Elle is a skilled advocate and true pro bono champion. Because of her attention to detail, determination to overcome pandemic imposed barriers to justice, patience and compassion, Ms. Ames prevailed in court and the landlord was ordered to return full security deposit in the amount of $1650. Ms. Ames was thrilled, and she left Elle a message immediately following the hearing. Elle shared her thoughts on the case, “advocating on behalf of Ms. Ames was truly one of my career highlights. Without Legal Services of Greater Miami, I would not be able to reach low-income individuals and provide pro bono legal services.”

Recovery of the renter’s security deposit is the largest percentage of Small Claims Court cases. For low-income families, not having these extra funds prevent many from securing safe, stable housing in thriving neighborhoods.

To volunteer or learn more about our pro bono opportunities, please contact Advocacy Director Jayme Cassidy at

*Name changed to protect client confidentiality.

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