Brandeis Law 2L pushes her boundaries during rural-focused fellowship

Brandeis Law 2L pushes her boundaries during rural-focused fellowship

Sue Eng Ly

Sue Eng Ly wanted to spend her summer working outside of her comfort zone. 

For Ly, a rising 2L at Brandeis Law who has always lived, studied and worked in large cities, that desire led her to the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia.

As a fellow with the Rural Summer Legal Corps, Ly is working with Blue Ridge Legal Services in Harrisonburg, Virginia, to educate tenants of manufactured home parks about their rights.

Laws governing manufactured homes, also known as mobile homes, vary by state. In Virginia, residents own the home but rent the land on which it sits. The residents of the houses and the owners of the land are subject to landlord-tenant laws, and Ly has spent much of the summer visiting residents and informing them of their rights.

“For a lot of people, they don’t expect much,” Ly says. “They expect their landlord to mess them over.”

One common issue is arbitrary evictions. A landlord might evict residents without proper notice, and because residents have to pay a fee to move their home, they often are unable to afford to move. That means they have to find new housing or sell their home. And because many residents aren’t aware they can contact a lawyer in these cases — or they can’t afford a lawyer — they often aren’t able to assert their rights.

“The scales weigh heavily in the landlords’ favor,” Ly says, adding that her office is working to bring a balance to the system in part by educating residents.

“Just because this is how it always is doesn’t mean that that’s how it has to be,” Ly says.

Ly applied for this fellowship through the Rural Summer Legal Corps and was eager to spend time in a community unlike the ones she’s lived in before. 

“Since moving to Kentucky, I’ve realized I had this gap in understanding about a significant part of my country,” she says. “I wanted the way I understood the world to be challenged.”

“There’s no way I can be a good advocate if I’m unaware of the struggles of some of the biggest parts of our country.”

Coming in to the manufactured home parks and knocking on doors was an uncomfortable experience, Ly says — she was viewed as an outsider in these small communities where residents have a general distrust of outsiders.

Instead of succumbing to that awkwardness, Ly decided to embrace it. 

“Sitting with that discomfort has been good for me because I’m better at empathizing with their doubts,” she says. “Being here has pushed me to constantly keep learning.”

When Ly returns to Brandeis Law this fall, she will resume her work as a fellow with the Brandeis Human Rights Advocacy Program, which works closely with Louisville’s immigrant, noncitizen and refugee communities.