L.A. City Council,Tenants’ Unions Want Free Lawyers for Evictions

Los Angeles smog (Nick Ut / Associated Press)
Nick Ut / Associated Press
Newport Beach, CA

The Los Angeles City Council is teaming up with tenant unions for a new right-to-counsel entitlement that would provide free lawyers for any L.A. residents being evicted.

The LAist.com website reports that with an average of 54,000 eviction court cases in Los Angeles County each year, L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz is sponsoring a motion backed by the eight Los Angeles Tenants Union locals, several public interest law firms, and the Los Angeles Community Action Network to provide tenants free legal representations to equalize the playing field with landlords and their lawyers.

Economic Roundtable published a study titled “Escape Routes” in April that found 231,000 one-person households are so deep in poverty that they spend 90 percent or more of their incomes on housing. The study highlighted this population as representing the highest likelihood of falling into homelessness.

The report states: “Eviction may be as close as one missed rent payment. This may be followed by couch surfing with relatives or friends, and when hospitality is unavailable, living in a car, going into a shelter or living on the street.”

When Rentanonmics analyzed national data from Apartment List users from 2015 to 2017, they found that 3.7 million American apartment renters have experienced an eviction, and nearly one in five renters were unable to pay their rent in full for at least one of the past three months.

The Los Angeles metropolitan area had one of the lowest average eviction rates, at 1.9 percent, and a low-income eviction rate of just 2.9 percent.

According to the Law Office of David Piotrowski, which represents landlords, a court-ordered eviction in Los Angeles typically takes 5-7 weeks, if the case is not disputed by the tenant, or about 2-3 months if the tenant fights the case.

But if the tenant obtains a lawyer and asks for an unlawful detainer (eviction) jury trial under CCP § 1171, the landlord will suffer much higher costs. Moreover, the length of time to sit a jury, try the case, and reach a jury decision can take much longer for an eviction.

Activists describe housing as a “right” — much as Democratic Party politicians have taken to calling health care a right, though in both cases it is unclear how those who claim that right could force other people to provide it.

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