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California NewsUSA

Eviction cases in Los Angeles have increased significantly this year. But it’s not all bad news for tenants

The eviction courtrooms on the sixth floor of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse downtown were bustling this month, as they have been all year. In one, a woman and her children said they were fighting to keep their $750-a-month rent-stabilized apartment near SoFi Stadium, fearing their housing costs would triple if they had to leave . In another, an elderly woman facing eviction was accompanied by her son-in-law, who was also being evicted from his home.

Eviction cases in Los Angeles County increased by the thousands in 2023 after pandemic-related moratoriums expired earlier this year. There have been about 43,000 eviction filings through November, putting the county on track to finish the year with more than 46,000, according to court data compiled by Kyle Nelson, senior policy analyst and of research for the nonprofit advocacy group Strategic Actions for a Just Economy.

That’s at least 10,000 more cases than last year and more than any year since 2016. It’s also well beyond 2020 and 2021, when cases fell precipitously amid moratoriums that made it harder for landlords to evict tenants.

But this year’s numbers, while high, did not climb as much as some tenant advocates feared. The exact reasons are unclear, but experts and advocates say permanent tenant protections enacted when moratoriums expire — such as a Los Angeles city rule that prohibits landlords from evicting tenants if they owe less than a month’s fair market rent – ​​could stem the tide.

Even though the numbers are lower than expected, Nelson said, they still represent tens of thousands of tenants facing eviction each year and are expected to remain high for some time.

“We have a lot of work to do if the goal is to keep tenants housed,” he said.

Landlord advocates say the eviction process has become so onerous that they are trying to find other ways to convince tenants to leave.

“For the most part, the landlords I talk to try to work things out with their tenants outside of court,” said Daniel Yukelson, executive director of Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles. “This sometimes involves offering the tenant a certain amount of money, either in the form of a rent discount or in the form of cash, simply to encourage them to move out rather than going through a protracted legal process .

“If you talk to most rental property owners, they are extremely frustrated being in the business,” he added.

It’s been a year of rapid – and sometimes confusing – change for renters and landlords. The pandemic era in the city and county expulsion Moratoriums expired in the early months of the year, meaning tenants were required to pay rent, even if they were financially impacted by COVID-19.

At the same time, the city adopted new protections for tenants, including expanded “just cause” rules that require landlords to have a legal reason to evict a tenant. The city also ushered in a major change by passing the rule requiring tenants to pay more than one month’s market rent before they can be evicted. Currently, that’s about $2,000 for a one-bedroom apartment.

The Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles has challenged this and other recently enacted protections in court, and the cases are ongoing.

The rule did not prevent landlords from threatening eviction for amounts below the fair market limit. Data released by the city comptroller’s office shows 11,461 eviction notices were filed for rent below the threshold. These notices are a precursor to an eviction lawsuit, but it is unclear how many of these cases end up in court.

Another major change for tenants since the pandemic has been Stay Housed LA, a collaboration between the city, county, local community and legal service providers, which has significantly increased the availability of legal advice and services for tenants threatened with expulsion. The program has provided comprehensive legal services to tenants in more than 2,000 cases this year and limited services in about 5,200 cases, said Elana Eden, a spokeswoman for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. But there is still a significant gap between the number of cases filed in court and the number of tenants able to access legal aid.

For those who cannot find a lawyer, some groups offer other forms of help. The nonprofit Eviction Defense Network has launched a “Tenant Empowerment Program” for tenants who can’t get a lawyer. It offers courses and other supports to tenants to better represent themselves in court.

City officials are also working to close gaps in access to legal aid: this month, the city council asked the city attorney to draft an ordinance on the “right to legal assistance.” ‘an attorney’ that would provide eligible tenants with legal representation in eviction cases. But even finding lawyers to do the work is a challenge, advocates said.

“Our reality is there aren’t enough lawyers,” said Pamela Agustin, coalition director for Eastside LEADS, one of Stay Housed LA’s partner community groups. “We do this work to prevent homelessness, to keep families in our communities, to stop displacement. But it happens.

Maria Briones in her motel room while waiting to find accommodation in Los Angeles.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Maria Briones’ landlord repeatedly tried over several months to evict her from the South Los Angeles apartment she shared with her brother. Briones, 68, disabled, had lived in the small apartment for about 10 years and paid $525 a month.

The threat of losing her home in such an expensive housing market took its toll, she said.

“Sometimes I just wanted to run away,” she said. “But where would I go? There was nowhere to go.”

Briones was luckier than many tenants when she found an attorney to help her with her case. Kaimi Wenger, supervising attorney for the Tenant Defense Project at the Inner City Law Center, successfully had eviction cases thrown out of court because they were not properly filed.

In the end, however, Briones still ended up losing the house after complaining to the city about the conditions of her apartment, including the lack of electricity. Inspectors found it to be an illegal and dangerous unit, and in September Briones and his brother were given 10 days to evacuate.

She found herself homeless. For a time, she stayed on couches at the homes of friends and family, until city officials helped place her in a motel room not far from her old apartment.

She lives there now, in a room that she keeps clean and uncluttered. She is able to store a small amount of food on a desk – oatmeal, peanut butter, jelly and beans. But most of the time, when she wants to eat, she goes to a friend’s nearby.

She is grateful for the safety of a private room but knows it can’t last forever.

“I’m not on the street,” she said. “But it’s a bit scary when it comes to the future. If they can’t find me permanent housing, what will happen? »

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