City of Los Angeles exploring right to counsel for evictions
06/02/2019, Legislation, Housing - Evictions
Update: efforts continue to create and fund eviction right to counsel
Curbed LA reports that the City of Los Angeles is poised to allocate $3 million towards the eviction right to counsel effort, while the LA Times urged the state to pass a bill (AB 330) to increase court filing fees that fund the Shriver Civil Counsel Act. It’s estimated that the bill could more than double the amount of funding currently available. The bill at this point has passed the California Assembly and is in the Senate.
Also, a report out of LA County by Public Counsel and others urges a number of reforms to the landlord/tenant law, including the right to counsel as an essential tenant protection.
Update: advocates push for $10 million towards right to counsel
According to the LA Times, advocates in Los Angeles are urging the City to invest $10 million towards the first step of an eviction right to counsel, which would assist about 10,000 tenants. The article explains that the Mayor supports the plan in principle.
- The LA Times published an editorial supporting the right to counsel in civil cases generally, saying that "The essence of the Gideon ruling was that a criminal trial in which the defendant faced prosecutors without a lawyer was inherently unfair. If that’s true in criminal cases, how could it not be equally true of landlord-tenant, child support or other civil cases?"
- The LA Times followed that piece up with another editorial, this time urging the City to adopt a right to counsel for eviction cases specificially.
- A letter to the editor in the LA Times urges a right to counsel in civil cases such as evictions and immigration by arguing that counsel “is an idea whose critical importance is well-accepted and now must be implemented." A second letter to the editor, written by Joe Donlin of SAJE (the main tenant organizing entity), applauded the LA Times’ editorial board in urging lawmakers to prioritize civil representation in eviction cases but says that only a right to counsel (rather than just a funding increase) will “create enduring change.”
- NCCRC participant Clare Pastore penned a piece for the San Francisco Daily Journal making the case for Los Angeles to enact an eviction right to counsel by citing to LA’s 31,000 eviction filings and 30,000 homeless persons as a compelling argument.
In June 2018, a motion was introduced to the City of Los Angeles Housing Committee asking it to examine the right to counsel in eviction cases. The motion referenced the successful efforts in NYC and San Francisco. In August 2018, the Housing Committee responded to the motion by recommending that the City explore a housing right to counsel ordinance. The motion “direct[s] the Housing and Community Investment Department to develop recommendations for such a program and report back to the City Council within 120 days.” Los Angeles has just under 55,000 eviction cases filed every year, and about 53,000 homeless people, and about 11% of the homeless cite eviction as the cause, according to LAist. You can read more in Medium (which references the Shriver pilots data on the impact of housing representation), Curbed, MynewsLA, and the LA Daily News, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition has a page devoted to the motion.
Previously, the right to counsel in evictions was approached from the fair housing angle. A 2015 rule from the Obama Administration requires all cities to determine if they are "affirmatively furthering fair housing", which is a requirement of the federal Fair Housing Act. In November 2017, the City of Los Angeles released its fair housing assessment, and one of the stated goals is to "Protect tenants’ legal rights through a 'Right to Counsel' Ordinance." The assessment notes that evictions in the city dropped significantly after the passage of the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act, suggesting that increased representation has reduced the rate of evictions, but the assessment notes the insufficiency of current state funding. It then charges several city departments and the City Council with exploring such an ordinance.
The NCCRC has been supporting the efforts of the LA Campaign.