For Immediate Release: March 22, 2023
COUNCIL ADOPTS MOTION TO ESTABLISH RIGHT TO COUNSEL BROUGHT BY COUNCILMEMBER RAMAN
LOS ANGELES -- Today, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a motion introduced by Councilmember Nithya Raman and co-presented by Councilmembers Bob Blumenfield, Heather Hutt, Eunisses Hernandez, Hugo Soto-Martinez, and Katy Yaroslavsky, to direct the City to report back on establishing a Right to Counsel ordinance and program for tenants in the City of Los Angeles facing eviction who can't afford a lawyer to represent them, and its total projected costs. Similar legislation passed in New York City and San Francisco has resulted in significantly reduced eviction filings as well as more people facing eviction staying in their homes.
An estimated 30,000 eviction notices are filed annually in the City of Los Angeles. When tenants are unable to afford a lawyer, they frequently fail to contest an eviction notice, even if it’s unlawfully issued. As a result, many eviction actions end in default judgments against tenants that may have been able to make successful arguments in court, if they only had representation. The motion introduced by Councilmember Raman and her colleagues proposes offering free legal services to tenants facing eviction via a Right to Counsel, thereby promoting housing stability and stemming the flow of people into homelessness.
“When we talk about what it’s like to live in LA, so often we are talking about a feeling of precariousness. And in particular, precariousness in housing. The feeling that at any time, with just a few bad breaks, you could lose your home,” said Councilmember Raman. “What Right to Counsel is trying to do is end our era of precarity and move into one of stability – keeping people in their homes and combat the eviction-to-homelessness pipeline that has exacerbated the homeless crisis for years. We are finally building a city where, if you end up in a situation in which you could lose your housing, someone will be there to support you.”
“If someone goes through an eviction without legal assistance, the deck is simply stacked against them - it’s now time to vastly expand our eviction defense program and transform it into a right-to-counsel program. ULA makes this possible,” said Councilmember Bob Blumenfield. “When I served in the state assembly, I authored similar legislation but due to lack of adequate federal, State, and County funding its success was limited. Now, as we climb out of the pandemic, we must continue to call on all levels of government to financially support right-to-counsel programs because if we don’t, we could see a lot more people on our streets.”
"I am proud to stand with Councilwoman Raman and my fellow colleagues to establish the Right to Counsel Program,” said Councilmember Heather Hutt. “As a single mother, who raised three boys, I know how difficult it is to get by - and there is no greater importance than the protection, safety and wellbeing of our communities. It is incumbent upon those of us who sit in positions of authority to protect our City’s most vulnerable. The City must work to ensure that tenants have access to the information and representation when facing harassment and eviction.”
“Too often, tenants who are served with an eviction notice – even one that’s unlawful – can’t afford a lawyer and don’t contest the eviction,” said Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez. “Without a right to legal counsel, thousands of families are at-risk of losing their housing and becoming part of the eviction-to-homelessness pipeline, simply because they cannot afford legal assistance. Establishing a Right to Counsel Program is critical to addressing our homelessness crisis and keeping Angelenos housed.”
“After New York City passed their right to counsel law, 84% of renters represented by city lawyers were able to remain in their homes,” said Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez. “That shows us we can limit needless evictions and prevent hardworking families from falling into homelessness.”
“The best way to prevent homelessness is to keep people housed in the first place. Yet, too many tenants lose their homes simply because they can't afford an attorney during eviction proceedings,” said Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky. “By establishing a Right to Counsel for tenants, the City of Los Angeles will start to level the playing field for so many renters in Los Angeles facing eviction and keep more Angelenos housed."
"This year, we will see a surge in evictions and the number of people becoming homeless unless the City Council takes swift action to protect tenants. We applaud the leadership of the City Council today in voting to move forward the Right to Counsel motion,” said Pablo Estupiñan, SAJE, Campaign Director, Right to Counsel. “Right to Counsel is about equity in court – no eviction case can ever be fair or just when one side is represented and the other is not. Right to Counsel is about racial, economic, and gender justice. And most importantly, Right to Counsel, enacted in 15 other cities across the country, has consistently demonstrated a reduction in evictions and homelessness, fewer court filings, and cost savings to cities."
Today’s legislation instructs the Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD), with assistance from the City Attorney and any other City departments, to report back within 60 days with recommendations for the establishment of a Right to Counsel ordinance and program for tenants facing eviction in the City of Los Angeles, including: coverage for tenants at 80% of the Area Median Income or below who live in the City of Los Angeles, a requirement that landlords provide notice to tenants of the right to counsel, and a requirement that LAHD work with designated community groups to engage and educate tenants about their rights, as well as provide tenants with navigation services.
Measure ULA, which Angelenos overwhelmingly approved in November, allocates 10% of revenue generated each year to fund a Right to Counsel for lower income tenants threatened with eviction. To prepare for these funds to be spent, the motion instructs the Los Angeles Housing Department, with assistance from the City Administrative Officer, Chief Legislative Analyst, the City Attorney, and any other City departments, as needed, to report back within 60 days with a detailed cost breakdown for a Right to Counsel ordinance and program and staffing needs, in addition to a prospective year-by-year spending plan for the implementation of the program subject to funding becoming available.