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As California’s eviction moratorium ends Friday, some protections remain for tenants

“Tina Rosales, an attorney and policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said some tenants don’t know they can halt an eviction proceeding by simply completing an application for assistance and many don’t have lawyers to help them. She’s afraid some might get spooked once the moratorium ends and “self-evict.”

“Yes, (state law) does have protections, but those protections rely heavily on a legal system that is not tenant friendly at all,” she said.”

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Victory for COVID Tenant Protections in Los Angeles

In an opinion issued last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the City of Los Angeles’ COVID-related tenant protections and affirmed the City’s ability to protect tenants from becoming unhoused during a pandemic that has claimed over 600,000 lives in the United States.

The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles filed a lawsuit in federal court to challenge, on constitutional grounds, the city’s ability to enact COVID-related tenant protections during the local emergency period: one barring evictions for nonpayment of rent or certain lease violations for COVID-related reasons and one barring rent increases for rent control units.

Western Center, along with Public Counsel, The Public Interest Law Project, and Susman Godfrey LLP, represent two tenants’ rights organizations, ACCE Action and Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE), who successfully intervened in the lawsuit to help defend the ordinances. Since the lawsuit was filed, California enacted rental protections, recently extended by AB 832, which overlap significantly with the eviction protection ordinance. While state law goes further to protect tenants in some ways, the City’s ordinance goes further in others.

After United States District Court Judge Dean Pregerson denied the Apartment Association’s motion to stop the ordinances, the Association appealed to the Ninth Circuit, arguing that the ordinances interfered with contracts between individual landlords and tenants, and that the City’s actions were unreasonable.

Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit panel stated, “the district court did not err in determining that the moratorium’s provisions were reasonable and appropriate given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic,” as “[t]he City fairly ties the moratorium to its stated goal of preventing displacement from homes, which the City reasonably explains can exacerbate the public health-related problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The ordinances do not “cancel” rental obligations – tenants are still on the hook for rent, but they can’t be evicted for nonpayment while the ordinance is in effect. The Apartment Association argued that delayed payment bolstered its Contracts Clause claim. The Court rejected that argument, stating, “[T]here is no apparent ironclad constitutional rule that eviction moratoria pass Contracts Clause scrutiny only if rent is paid during the period of the moratoria[.]”

Additionally, noting the establishment of federal, state, and local rental relief programs, the Court stated that the existence of such programs “further undermine AAGLA’s Contracts Clause challenge.”

This lawsuit is one of many that landlords have filed to challenge emergency eviction protections across the country. In fact, a landlords’ challenge to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s Temporary Protection from Eviction was reviewed by the United States Supreme Court, which issued a ruling on August 26th stating that the CDC exceeded its authority, and therefore suspended the Temporary Protection.

While we disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling for the reasons stated in Justice Breyer’s dissent, it is important to note that the Supreme Court’s majority did not invalidate local and state eviction protections. This decision does not impact California’s state-wide protections or locally enacted tenant protections, including in the City of Los Angeles, which remain in effect.

Landlord challenges to eviction protections continue, even as we face a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant. We hope more landlords and associated entities will shift their energy toward the government agencies tasked with distributing rental relief, and advocate to ensure the funds are being made available to stabilize both tenants and landlords, rather than forcing struggling renters out and onto the streets.

 

LA County extends eviction ban. What’s holding up California’s statewide moratorium?

“But renters in other parts of California are not protected from eviction. And that could lead to a looming eviction crisis, according to Tina Rosales, a policy advocate from Western Center on Law and Poverty. “If the state doesn’t extend the ban for those tenants, then we’re going to have a lot of people who are evicted when there’s billions of dollars in the bank waiting to be released to landlords for the purpose of preventing that exact problem,” she tells KCRW.”

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The California Judicial Council and a case study for confronting racism in “neutral” institutions.

Earlier this week, the Judicial Council of California announced it was considering a vote to end the  emergency rule suspending evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement was alarming to housing and anti-poverty advocates, and we quickly raised the alarm about the harm such a move would cause for California communities – particularly Black and Brown renters.

Fortunately, the pressure generated both in public and behind the scenes led the Council to decide against the vote to lift the rule. Western Center played a role in pushing the message that lifting the rule would lead to mass evictions, exacerbating the current public health crisis and existing homelessness crisis, both of which are a direct result of the systemic racial inequality that people in California and across the country are protesting right now.

In a statement released after the decision to suspend the vote, the Council asserted its commitment to racial justice, and acknowledged its role in addressing systems that harm Black Americans:

In our profession and in our daily lives, we must confront the injustices that have led millions to call for a justice system that works fairly for everyone. Each member of this court, along with the court as a whole, embraces this obligation. As members of the legal profession sworn to uphold our fundamental constitutional values, we will not and must not rest until the promise of equal justice under law is, for all our people, a living truth.

The Judicial Council’s proposed action, and its subsequent decision to walk it back, is an important example of how easy it is for our institutions to fall into systemic failures that perpetuate racial injustice, and our duty as advocates to explicitly and forcefully call it out.

The COVID-19 public health crisis is also an economic crisis, especially for Californians, and it disproportionately effects people of color who are most likely to have lost work and their ability to pay rent. The paradox of racial inequality we see in the current economy is that Black and Brown people are more likely to lose their jobs because of the crisis, thereby losing income necessary for housing security, but they are also disproportionately employed in the very jobs that put them in contact with other people, increasing exposure to the coronavirus.

Additionally, and intimately connected to the protests against police violence happening across the globe, evictions always place people of color in direct contact with law enforcement. An estimated 365,000 renter households are in imminent danger of eviction in Los Angeles alone, with disproportionate impact on communities of color.  Evictions are enforced by sheriffs’ offices across the state, and the advancement of eviction proceedings forces law enforcement interaction with people in their homes. More evictions mean more interaction with cops.

While the judicial council decision is important now in the midst of uprising and a continued public health emergency, it is important that we do not lose sight of how eviction laws, in California and the rest of the country, reinforce the racist use of government force against people when they are removed from their homes.

It is important that we as Western Center use this opportunity to highlight the ways “neutral” government institutions can and do perpetuate systems embedded in white supremacy. Most systems continue on because it’s “how things are done,” or it’s “the responsibility of another branch.”

Systems resist change; they are built upon repetition to create efficiencies and consistent results. Systems gain legitimacy based on their own perpetuation. The time has come to acknowledge that the racism baked into American systems is illegitimate.

Our current process of evictions is a system designed for efficient and consistent results for landlords to eject tenants with little regard for the outcome. The restart of this process would have (and will have, should it resume without Legislative intervention) devastating effects on Black and Brown households and communities, especially if there is a rush to resume, and a failure to disrupt the patterns of inequity.

While we agree that checks and balances exist for a reason, we do not agree that means branches of government can cede their responsibility to protect people first and foremost. When the opportunity to protect arises, they must do so, even if that means doing things differently, or in ways they are unaccustomed to. We appreciate that the Council delayed resumption of this process because it creates an opportunity to change our approach to this inherently racist system. The times we are in call for thoughtful, longer term solutions, starting with items like our co-sponsored bill, AB 1436.

To move our state and country forward, things MUST be done differently. Otherwise, we will continue to capitulate to the white supremacy this country and state were both founded upon. We expect this conversation and these kind of actions to continue to take place, from the Judiciary, to the Legislature, to the Governor, and within our own organization. This is only the beginning.

Extra Edition: Rent Prices Drop in Top Housing Market.

“The coronavirus pandemic is impacting the rent market in the San Francisco Bay Area at levels not seen in many years. Many people are moving out because of mass layoffs, job loss, and permanent remote work, causing rent prices to drop. What’s the long-term impact of coronavirus on the most expensive housing market in the country?”

Western Center housing advocate Sasha Harnden interviewed in Spanish.

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California Courts Delay Eviction Freeze Decision, End Zero Bail During Coronavirus Emergency

“The Western Center on Law and Poverty, which advocates for low-income residents, warned before the vote that ending the freeze “is the wrong move.”

In a tweet, the nonprofit said: “If @CalCourts allows evictions in August, it will cause mass displacement, more interactions with police (sheriffs perform evictions), & push 1000s of Californians onto the street. A disproportionate number of CA renters are Black & brown.”

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Did your rental lease expire during the pandemic? Attorney says to ‘stay in your home’

“Madeline Howard, senior attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, works with housing issues and the impacts on tenants daily.

Howard said even if Spallino’s landlord wanted her out by June 6, he would likely have trouble doing so because courts have shut down the process for unlawful detainers during the pandemic.

“The unlawful detainer process is how you get evicted through a court,” Howard said. “And the courts have said we are not doing any unlawful detainers, unless they are necessary for public health.”