Crystal's story

Photo of Crystal Smith

It takes a voice to build a just society.
Crystal Smith has a voice and she had the courage to use it. When the furnace in her house broke, she asked the landlord to fix it. When the landlord didn’t, leaving her and her young children without heat for a long, cold month in the deep of winter, she took the landlord to rent court. She won the right to put her rent in escrow with the court until the landlord fixed the furnace.
Two days after Crystal won her case in rent court, the landlord showed up unannounced at her front door. He brought the police with him to force her eviction. She had two hours to pack her stuff and leave. Luckily, a kind neighbor took her in and the family was able to stay in that neighbor’s basement.
But even an eviction could not silence Crystal. Sitting before members of the Maryland General Assembly, she told her story. She was part of a panel testifying in support of SB 620/HB 670, the so-called “Stop Retaliation” law. Crystal’s powerful testimony helped convince lawmakers to pass this important law.
The PJC and our partners in the Rental Housing Coalition have long been aware of the retaliation that Crystal and other tenants suffer when they speak out about dangerous housing conditions or lease violations. Maryland’s antiquated anti-retaliation law was the most regressive in the United States, and now has been brought up to the standards enjoyed by the rest of the country for the last forty years. During the 2011 legislative session, we worked with the Rental Housing Coalition to advocate for the passage of this important new legislation, sponsored by Senator Roger Manno and Delegate Barbara Frush. Our victory enhances tenants’ protections from landlord retaliation when the tenant exercises certain rights such as complaining about housing conditions, joining a tenant union, or suing the landlord.
Each year, the PJC goes to Annapolis to amplify the voices of people like Crystal during the Maryland General Assembly. In our conversations with legislators, we advocate to change laws that perpetuate poverty and discrimination. Together with a wide coalition of allies and advocates, we provide critical insight, analysis, and testimony to demonstrate how the challenges facing individuals are part of larger trends that require legislative solutions. The passage of the “Stop Retaliation” law is but one example of the powerful change that is possible when individuals, advocates, and legislators join their voices. We honor Crystal and the other Maryland tenants who testified for their courage to speak out for justice. 
Thank you for building a just society. 
*For results from the latest state legislative session, check out the Public Justice Center's legislative report