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New programs available to help in Sedgwick County eviction cases

Hugo Phan
KMUW/File photo
The 18th District Court in Sedgwick County has a new eviction resolution program.

A new eviction resolution program is coordinating services for people going through the eviction process, including mediation, legal advice and informational resources.

A new eviction resolution program through Sedgwick County’s District Court is working to provide tenants and landlords with resources.

The program offers mediation services – where a tenant and landlord can work with a neutral party to reach an agreement – in cases that otherwise might proceed to eviction.

Abigail Lessman started as the eviction resolution program manager last August.

“The landlord can reach out to me if they have a tenant that they're willing to work with (but) they think a neutral party would be beneficial to hear both sides to help them kind of come to an agreement,” Lessman said.

Kansas received a grant last July to strengthen eviction diversion efforts in Sedgwick County. The county's district court handles a third of all eviction cases in Kansas, the most of any court in the state.

Lessman says she’s also seeking to improve public information about the eviction court process, which can be confusing. She plans to offer public information sessions and has created a flowchart about the eviction process.

One of Lessman’s major goals is connecting people going through eviction with legal aid. Kansas Legal Services recently set up a weekly self-help center for people facing eviction to get free legal advice.

“That has been extremely helpful because as people come to me with … legal questions about their case, then I can refer them directly over to potentially talk to Kansas Legal Services,” Lessman said.

The center offers legal advice on a variety of civil cases, too, such as family law. But the organization doesn’t take criminal cases, said Ellen Bertels, a staff attorney with Kansas Legal Services.

Plus, the legal advice is limited in scope, and consultations can be as short as 20 minutes. The services do not include representation in court.

Residents don’t need to have received an eviction notice to start seeking legal advice, Bertels said.

“Before we even get to the court process, we can help negotiate something with the landlord or advise them on their rights ahead of time,” Bertels said. “The main constraint we face is that there are situations where if a person has not paid rent and they’re not able to pay rent … sometimes there’s not a defense to the eviction.”

The center is open by appointment on Tuesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and for walk-ins on Wednesdays from 12:30 to 4 p.m.

It’s located at the Sedgwick County Law Library. More information is available here.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.