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‘Substantial remodel’ — a legal loophole to evict tenants in LA

Erica Rede never thought the installation of some new appliances could lead to an eviction.

Rede says she’d always paid her rent on time, and had been living in her South Pasadena apartment, with her son (a recent South Pas High grad), for seven years when her building was purchased by a new landlord. Soon after that, a vacant neighboring unit got new flooring, new heating and cooling, a washer and dryer, and a dishwasher. But rather than hope her apartment would soon gain these amenities, Rede worried.

Then, in July 2022 during the countywide Covid eviction moratorium, Rede received an eviction notice, saying “the basis for the termination is that the Premises [sic] will be substantially remodeled” — her fear was coming true.

Rede’s story is all too common across LA County: Through a loophole in the state’s Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (TPA), landlords can push tenants out to facilitate a “substantial remodel” — though what exactly constitutes “substantial” has always been fuzzy.

In response to street vendor lawsuit, City Council members acknowledge the need to bring L.A.’s street vending ordinance into legal compliance, but the proposal still falls short.

In response to street vendor lawsuit, City Council members acknowledge the need to bring L.A.’s street vending ordinance into legal compliance, but the proposal still falls short.

Los Angeles – On Friday, October 20, 2023, a motion was introduced in Los Angeles City Council calling for the City’s Sidewalk Vending Ordinance to be amended in order to comply with state law. Currently, the City’s Sidewalk Vending Ordinance excludes sidewalk vendors from 9 City areas representing some of the most popular pedestrian areas of the City, including the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The motion proposes City officials create new vending rules for Hollywood Boulevard and the Hollywood Bowl, to be crafted in consultation with the vending community.

The No Vending Zones in the City’s Sidewalk Vending Ordinance, along with several other restrictive regulations, are currently the subject of a lawsuit filed in December 2022 by sidewalk vendors and sidewalk vendor advocates. The judge overseeing this lawsuit made an early ruling indicating that he found little justification for Los Angeles’ regulations under state law. Trial is set for February 2024.

We share the general goals described in this motion –  to create a lawful and successful sidewalk vending program that balances legitimate safety considerations with economic inclusion. In fact, street vendors have long been proposing these exact ideas, and have advocated tirelessly for inclusive and transparent policies that would allow these small businesses to operate with dignity and safety. So while it should not have required our lawsuit to motivate these actions, we appreciate the support of the council members authoring this motion, as well as this express acknowledgement that the City must bring its ordinance into legal compliance.

But this motion does not actually propose to eliminate the unlawful No Vending Zones, and it risks repeating the process that resulted in the illegal restrictions in the first place. The motion does not immediately end the City’s unjust exclusion of vendors from entire neighborhoods, nor does it address the deep financial, emotional, and psychological harms experienced by vendors from years of draconian enforcement of these unlawful and exclusionary policies. The motion does not address the illegal citation practices of the Bureau of Street Services (StreetsLA) over the past four years, or provide redress to vending businesses that have been harmed by StreetsLA’s retaliatory actions. The motion does not address the other regulations we challenge in our lawsuit, including the unnecessary and potentially illegal buffer zones around swap meets and schools. Ultimately, the motion may lead to an unnecessary patchwork of confusing policies, still not aligned with state law.

Vendors cannot afford to continue to rack up thousands of dollars in illegitimate fines while a motion works its way through multiple committees and politicized discussions. Half-measure steps in the right direction will not resolve the litigation. Therefore, our lawsuit will proceed until the foundational legal issues underlying our case are resolved. And we will vigorously oppose any effort to use this motion, and its protracted timeline,  as justification for delaying full resolution of our legal claims. We continue to welcome a conversation with the City that centers the voices and experiences of vendors, but we are not deterred from pursuing our strong legal claims and we are confident that we will prevail in court if necessary.

 

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Community Power Collective: Community Power Collective builds power with low-income workers and tenants through transformative organizing to win economic justice, community control of land and housing, and to propagate systems of cooperation in Boyle Heights and the greater LA region.

East LA Community Corporation: ELACC is a Boyle Heights-based community development corporation that uses an equitable development model to engage residents traditionally left out of decision-making processes. In addition to affordable housing, they provide financial capability services through their Community Wealth department, which supports sidewalk vendors with free tax preparation, financial coaching, Technical Assistance, and social loans. ELACC is co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign (LASVC) and has worked with micro-entrepreneurs for over a decade.

Inclusive Action for the City: Inclusive Action for the City (IAC) is a Community Development Financial Institution and nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles whose mission is to bring people together to build strong local economies that uplift low-income urban communities through advocacy and transformative economic development initiatives. IAC serves the community through policy advocacy, research, consulting services, business coaching, and a lending program, among other efforts. IAC is a co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign and has worked with street vendors and other small business owners for more than 10 years.

Public Counsel: Founded in 1970, Public Counsel is the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services, utilizing an innovative legal model to promote justice, hope, and opportunity in lower-income and communities of color in Los Angeles and across the nation. Through groundbreaking civil rights litigation, community building, advocacy, and policy change, as well as wide-ranging direct legal services that annually help thousands of people experiencing poverty, Public Counsel has fought to secure equal justice and opportunity for all for more than 50 years.

Western Center on Law & Poverty: Fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

LA County supervisors want to erase $2.6 billion in residents medical debt

Billions of dollars of medical debt owed by nearly a million Los Angeles County residents could be purchased by the county and retired, according to a proposal set in motion on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to explore a plan to purchase $2.6 billion in medical bills owed by people throughout the county for pennies on the dollar. If implemented, the action would relieve families of what can become a lifetime burden and often prevents them from seeking medical care.

“Medical debt can contribute to food insecurity and housing instability,” said Fourth District Supervisor and board chair Janice Hahn, co-author of the motion along with Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell. “Once someone has medical debt it becomes a barrier to assessing their healthcare.”

Hahn said the motion is a way to address medical debt experienced by up to a million county residents. The process would cost the county only a fraction of the amount owed to buy the debt, then retire it, the county reported.

Here’s how it would work:

When people accumulate debt from unpaid medical bills, eventually hospitals and medical establishments sell the debt to for-profit collection agencies. If not paid, these agencies often win judgments in court that can result in liens on payroll and properties against the patients.

Los Angeles County intends to intervene by buying out the residents’ debt for pennies on the dollar.

The proposal could wipe out billions of dollars in medical debt at a cost to the county of only millions, Hahn explained. The potential cost to the county would be $24 million to retire $2 billion in medical debt spread over the next two to three years, according to the county Department of Public Health (DPH).

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PRESS RELEASE: Settlement Reached with Los Angeles County to Provide Foster Youth with Vital Mental Health Services

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Latest settlement comes 18 years after initial settlement of a lawsuit alleging the LA County foster system was not providing necessary mental health services for youth in its care

Los Angeles, CA — The County of Los Angeles has entered into a new settlement of a longstanding lawsuit, Katie A v. Bontá, where it has made a number of commitments to significantly increase intensive home and community based mental health services for thousands of children and youth involved with the County’s foster care system.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2002, is a federal class action lawsuit against Los Angeles County and its Department of Children and Family Services, as well as California’s Department of Social Services and Department of Health Care Services. The suit challenged the County and state agencies for neglecting their duties to provide necessary and legally mandated health care services to treat the mental health conditions of children.  Separate settlement agreements were reached with both the state and LA County in the case.

“We have been working on this case for almost two decades now,” said Robert Newman, an attorney for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “To end the lawsuit, the County has agreed to implement several new initiatives to ensure that foster children can remain in their current homes and communities.”

The County first settled the lawsuit back in 2003 and agreed to provide mental health services, then a long monitoring process began. Over time it became clear that the County was not providing the services it agreed to, so Plaintiffs filed a successful motion in 2009 to enforce the original settlement provisions.st year, the County filed a motion to end the case.

“We have worked on this case for many years because it was clear that foster youth in LA County, especially those with serious mental disorders, were not getting the services they needed,” said Melinda Bird, Senior Litigation Counsel at Disability Rights California. “We had to keep fighting.”

Because of the lawsuit, the County has implemented a number of reforms since 2003 in the delivery of child welfare and mental health services. This week’s settlement focuses on foster youth who have more intensive but unmet mental health needs, such as those who have experienced placement disruptions, psychiatric hospitalizations, or have been placed in group homes, such as Short Term Residential Treatment Programs.

“The Katie A. case has led to tremendous reforms,” said Ira Burnim, Legal Director at Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “We are pleased that additional progress will be made before the case ends.”

The County has agreed to implement new measures to provide specialty mental health services, including Intensive Care Coordination and Intensive Home Based Services, over the next nine months. As this is a class action lawsuit, the settlement will require court approval.

“This new agreement with Los Angeles County specifically targets the outstanding actions needed to ensure children and youth get the services and supports they are entitled to and help them succeed,” said Kim Lewis, Managing Attorney for the National Health Law Program.

 

Contact: Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at]wclp.org

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PRESS RELEASE: L.A. Man Sues City After Car Towed and Sold Over Two Parking Tickets

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Car Auctioned Despite Man’s Participation in Community Assistance Parking Program

LOS ANGELES — A person experiencing homelessness, Joseph Safuto, has sued the City of Los Angeles, challenging the city’s practice of towing vehicles as a mechanism for collecting debt – in this case two unpaid parking tickets that resulted in a lapsed registration. The lawsuit challenges the city’s practice of towing vehicles without a public safety justification solely because of lapsed registration, and it challenges the way the city conducts towing hearings.

“I put a lot of effort into getting the car registered, but I had those two parking tickets that were holding it up. I was trying to work them off through CAPP, and they towed it anyway,” said Safuto. “I was already struggling to get me and my daughter housing and to get on my feet again. When my car was towed, it pushed me into a deeper hole, not just financially but also emotionally. It was debilitating, and all of this for two parking tickets. It’s wrong to leverage a small debt to the city to take people’s property.”

The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California are representing Safuto.

“At a time when the city should be focusing its resources on moving people out of homelessness, Mr. Safuto’s case illustrates how the City’s continued reliance on law enforcement and punitive measures actually perpetuate the cycle of poverty,” said Shayla Myers, senior attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

Safuto suffers from mobility disabilities that prevent him from working. He used his vehicle to visit his nine-year-old daughter, attend medical appointments, and run errands. 

In April 2019, the Los Angeles Police Department ordered Safuto’s vehicle towed, even though the car was not impeding traffic or impacting public safety in any way. The justification for the tow was that his registration had expired, but he was prevented from re-registering his vehicle, even though he had paid the registration fee. The city had a hold on his registration because he had not paid two outstanding parking tickets, totaling about $350.

At the time of the tow, Safuto was enrolled in the Community Assistance Parking Program, which allows people experiencing homelessness to pay off outstanding parking tickets by performing community service. He was scheduled to participate in the program on the day his vehicle was towed.

“Leaders of California and Los Angeles say they are working to get people out of poverty and out of homelessness, but actions like these work against individuals like Mr. Safuto who try their best to stay afloat and follow the law,” said Rebecca Miller, an attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Our state can’t afford city policies that punish people for poverty.”

Safuto informed the officer who towed his vehicle that he had submitted necessary proof and fees to register his car, and that he was participating in the Community Assistance Parking Program, but the officer had the car towed anyway.

Safuto later presented this information at an administrative hearing, where he contested the tow, but the administrative officer only considered that the car had not been registered at the time of the tow.

Because Safuto was unable to pay the fees associated with the tow — including a $115 City of Los Angeles “vehicle release fee,” a $41.50 daily storage fee, and a $70 lien processing fee — the towing company sold his car at lien sale.

Despite the fact that the car was sold, Safuto was charged $1004.50 to cover the lien and he still had to do the community service to work off the parking ticket debt.

“Everyone has a right to due process and security in their belongings, and cars are no exception,” said Julia Devanthéry, the Dignity for All staff attorney at the ACLU of SoCal. “Vehicles are essential for many Angelenos — especially those experiencing homelessness. The city should be investing in affordable housing instead of cutting people’s essential lifelines to work and safety by towing their cars for debt collection.”

This action is an amendment to a petition filed in July. Safuto seeks a court order to ensure that the City tows vehicles only when it is necessary for public safety, rather than for debt collection. Safuto also seeks to reverse the decision of the administrative hearing officer and recover all costs associated with the tow, as well as the cost to replace his vehicle.

Read the lawsuit here.

 

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Sara Williams, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, (323) 801-7996, [email protected]

ACLU SoCal Communications & Media Advocacy, (213) 977-5252, [email protected]

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About Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors.

About Western Center on Law & Poverty
Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice and system-wide change to secure housing, health care, racial justice and a strong safety net for low-income Californians. Western Center attains real-world, policy solutions for clients through litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and technical assistance and legal support for the state’s legal aid programs. Western Center is California’s oldest and largest legal services support center.

About ACLU of Southern California
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California was founded in 1923 to defend and secure rights guaranteed by the Constitution – free speech, religion, the rights of assembly, freedom of the press, and due process under the law — and extend them to people who have been excluded from their protection. Our work is accomplished through litigation in the courts, public education and lobbying.