For Immediate Release
Los Angeles residents fighting to prevent mass displacement and homelessness in the middle of a pandemic
LOS ANGELES – Tenants’ rights organizations the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action (ACCE Action) and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) seek to join a federal lawsuit to defend the City of Los Angeles’s COVID-19 emergency eviction protections and rent freeze. Public Counsel, the Western Center on Law and Poverty (WCLP), and the Public Interest Law Project (PILP) filed a motion to intervene yesterday in the federal lawsuit Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA) v. City of Los Angeles on behalf of tenant members of ACCE and SAJE. AAGLA’s lawsuit is seeking to void the City’s validly enacted eviction protection and rent freeze ordinances, thereby allowing its members to engage in mass evictions in the midst of a global pandemic — a catastrophe for Los Angeles tenants and the region’s health.
Los Angeles sits at the juncture of three unfolding crises — a global public health pandemic, an ever-increasing homelessness and affordable housing crisis, and a movement for Black Lives that seeks justice for those who are disproportionately experiencing the impacts of the first two crises. “You can’t be safe at home if you don’t have a home. It is unconscionable and immoral for AAGLA to be seeking the right to evict poor families of color in the middle of a global pandemic where eviction can have deadly consequences,” said Faizah Malik, Staff Attorney with the Community Development Project at Public Counsel.
The City of Los Angeles enacted an ordinance in late March to provide tenants with an affirmative defense to certain unlawful detainer actions. The ordinance, among other things, prohibits landlords from evicting tenants who are unable to pay rent due to circumstances related to COVID-19, such as loss of income or healthcare expenses; provides tenants with a 12-month repayment period to pay back rent; and prohibits landlords from evicting tenants based on the presence of unauthorized occupants or pets or for nuisance related to COVID-19.
The City also enacted an ordinance in early May to freeze rent increases for one year for all units protected by the City’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance. AAGLA is seeking to reverse these reasonable and necessary measures to keep people stably housed. “It is crucial for the Court to hear from tenants in this case because they are the ones who are facing eviction, homelessness, and potentially catastrophic health consequences if the Court voids the ordinances,” said Kathryn Eidmann, Senior Supervising Staff Attorney with the Opportunity Under Law Project at Public Counsel.
ACCE and SAJE, as part of the Healthy LA Coalition, fought for the passage of these ordinances. ACCE and SAJE are tenants’ rights membership organizations comprised of low-income and very low-income Black and Brown people in Los Angeles. The majority of their members are severely rent burdened and are one crisis away from homelessness. A majority have lost income during the pandemic and are struggling to pay rent; those that kept their jobs are frontline workers who are risking contracting COVID-19 every day because they have no other choice.
Despite the challenges they are facing, many members are trying to pay rent, at the expense of other necessities like food. At the same time, landlords are seeking and obtaining massive federal subsidies and mortgage relief, but AAGLA still wants the unbridled power to engage in mass evictions. “Rent was due again this week, and for the fourth consecutive month thousands of Angelenos won’t be able to pay it. Without the current protections, many of our members would be displaced, exponentially increasing the already fast-moving gentrification process in the neighborhoods where we organize,” said Joe Delgado, Los Angeles Director of ACCE Action.
Since the ordinances were adopted, tenants have faced increased harassment by landlords employing tactics such as sending excessive notices, forcing tenants to sign repayment agreements, and neglecting essential repairs. Even with these extreme conditions, what tenants fear the most is losing their homes and being forced to live on the street at a time when having a home has never been more important.
“I owe $975 in rent for the month of May. Even though I am working now, it will take me three months to save enough money in order to keep paying the rent month-to-month. I do not want to leave this apartment. I have lived here for 11 years. If the owner evicts me, I will not have anywhere to go. I would be on the street,” said David D*, a tenant and member of SAJE.
“This is an issue of statewide and national concern. Across California and the country, tenants are staring down an impending wave of evictions. We must do everything we can to safeguard the local protections necessary to give tenants a chance at recovering from the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath,” said Nisha Vyas, Senior Attorney at Western Center.
“The emergency ordinances were reasonable and necessary actions to prevent further devastation. The City was correct to take action to protect tenants and within its powers,” said Michael Rawson, Director of PILP.
*Tenant’s real name protected.
Media Contact: Rekha Radhakrishnan, 832-628-2312, rradhakrishnan[at]publiccounsel.org
Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Founded in 1970, Public Counsel strives to achieve three main goals: protect the legal rights of disadvantaged children; represent immigrants who have been the victims of torture, persecution, domestic violence, trafficking, and other crimes; and foster economic justice by providing individuals and institutions in underserved communities with access to quality legal representation. Through a pro bono model that leverages the talents and dedication of thousands of attorney and law student volunteers, along with an in-house staff of more than 75 attorneys and social workers, Public Counsel annually assists more than 30,000 families, children, immigrants, veterans, and nonprofit organizations and addresses systemic poverty and civil rights issues through impact litigation and policy advocacy. For more information, visit www.publiccounsel.org
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.
The Public Interest Law Project (PILP) provides crucial litigation, advocacy and training support to local legal services and public interest law programs throughout California serving lower income communities and communities of color. Our work brings affordable housing to lower income families and homeless people, provides access to services and public benefits for lower income persons and persons with disabilities, and protects neglected and abused children and persons displaced by major disasters and government action.