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Los Angeles Looks to Provide Private Attorneys to Tenants Facing Eviction

Los Angeles Looks to Provide Private Attorneys to Tenants Facing Eviction

Renters and housing advocates attend a protest to cancel rent and avoid evictions amid the Coronavirus pandemic in Los Angeles on Aug. 21, 2020. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

12/15/2023

Updated: 1/12/2024

The Los Angeles City Council will expand a COVID-era program to assist renters facing eviction, after a 12–0 vote Dec. 12 directing staff to draft an ordinance that would provide legal counsel for such tenants.
Council President Paul Krekorian recused himself from the vote due to a conflict of interest as he is a landlord and Councilors Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Curren Price were absent during the vote. The city attorney, with assistance from the city’s Housing Department, was required to prepare and present a draft within 60 days.
Proposed in February, the ordinance—called Right to Counsel—will first provide counsel for zip codes in the city with the most vulnerable population, according to city officials. An expected 2,500 residents should be able to have representation in the program’s first year—2024—and 10,000 by 2029, the last year of the program under the proposed ordinance.
Under it, landlords must notify tenants of the program when serving an eviction, allowing tenants to contact the city for legal aid.
Those who earn 80 percent or less of the county area median income—which equates to below $84,000 annually—would qualify for such representation under the proposed ordinance.
The city estimates the program will start with 50 attorneys and increase to 200 by 2029.
Funding for the program will come from Measure ULA, approved by voters in November 2022. Sometimes called the “mansion tax,” the measure is a 4 percent sales tax on properties sold over $5 million and 5.5 percent on those over $10 million.
Under the measure, 10 percent of revenue each year will be allocated towards the Right to Counsel program, with cost estimates between $20 to $30 million in the first two years, reaching nearly $70 million by 2029.
During a news conference outside of City Hall held before the council meeting, several housing advocates and members for Keep LA Housed—composed of tenant rights advocates and lawyers—expressed their support for the proposed ordinance.
“Every tenant deserves representation in court and protection against harassment from their landlord,” said Titus Fotsu, who described himself as a tenant, who spoke at the news conference.
Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez said during the meeting the vote would help resolve an “unfair fight” for tenants who face evictions and can’t afford an attorney.
“This has been an issue we have been trying to work on … we know that is unfair when tenants are facing eviction, they do not have an attorney. We know that landlords have an attorney in 95 percent of these eviction proceedings and tenants only have it 3 percent,” he said.
But Daniel Yukelson, CEO and executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, told The Epoch Times the city’s current proposed plans will likely have unintended consequences.
“People are being extremely careful on who they select as tenants and only people with terrific credit are going to get into apartments from now on,” he said. “So it’s going to lead to more people not being able to find housing.”
Currently, there are about 65,000 eviction filings on record in Los Angeles according to the city controller’s office, with the large majority due to non-payment of rent.
Stickers advocating for rent cancellation are pasted to a light fixture in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Nov. 8, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Stickers advocating for rent cancellation are pasted to a light fixture in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Nov. 8, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

He suggested the city instead help tenants pay their unpaid rent, which, he said, would cost the city less and be more effective.
Typically, the average three-day notice for an eviction in the city has been for $2,000 to $3,000 in unpaid rent. The city paying that, he said, would be less than paying for legal services for cases where tenants are typically at fault.
“They'll easily spend far more than that [on] hiring attorneys, which will just lead to delays for the property owner and lead to the inevitable. … Over 90 percent of the time they are being evicted because they’re not paying legally owed rent,” Mr. Yukelson said.
The new program expands the city’s so-called Eviction Defense Program was formed in July 2021 to offer legal assistance and information for renters facing eviction during the pandemic. The Los Angeles City Council initially approved a $63 million one-time fund for the program through the end of June 2025.
Additional funds were made available after Measure ULA was voter-approved, which was planned to allow for Right to Counsel funding, as part of the program, according to city officials.
Other cities that have adopted similar programs include New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, with 10 percent of evictions for San Franciscans dropping in one year after the city first enacted their own ordinance in 2018, according to officials.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the city council’s action on a proposed ordinance. The Epoch Times regrets the error.
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Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

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Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

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