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State News

Los Angeles County’s eviction crisis worsens, tenants battle to keep homes amidst legal battles

Los Angeles County, California – The eviction courts on the sixth floor of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse downtown were really busy this month, just like they’ve been throughout the year. In one courtroom, a mom and her kids were desperately trying to keep their $750-a-month rent-controlled apartment close to SoFi Stadium. They were scared their rent might shoot up three times if they got kicked out. In a different room, there was an older lady who was about to be evicted, and her son-in-law was there too, facing his own eviction battle.

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In Los Angeles County, the number of people being evicted jumped by thousands in 2023. This happened after the special rules from the pandemic time ended earlier in the year. By November, there were around 43,000 eviction cases, and it looked like the total might reach over 46,000 by the end of the year. Kyle Nelson, who analyzes policy and research for a nonprofit group called Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, put these numbers together.

This year, we saw more than 10,000 extra cases compared to last year, making it the highest since 2016. And these numbers were way higher than in 2020 and 2021, when fewer people were evicted because there were strong rules protecting renters.

However, the increase wasn’t as big as some people who support renters had worried it might be. It’s not completely clear why, but some experts and supporters think it’s because of new rules that help protect tenants, like a rule in Los Angeles that stops landlords from evicting people if they owe less than a month’s worth of rent at the fair market rate.

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Even though the situation wasn’t as bad as expected, Kyle Nelson pointed out that there are still thousands of renters facing eviction every year, and this problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

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

People who own buildings and rent them out have said that evicting tenants has become really difficult, so they’re trying to find other ways to encourage them to move out.Top of Form

“For the most part, the owners I speak to are trying to work things out with their tenants outside of court,” said Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles. “Sometimes that entails offering the tenant some money, either in the form of forgiven rent or some cash, just as an incentive to move out rather than go through a prolonged court process.

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

This year was full of big and sometimes puzzling changes for both renters and property owners. Early in the year, the eviction bans from the pandemic times ended. This meant that all renters had to start paying their rent again, even if they were struggling because of COVID-19.

At the same time, the city brought in new rules to protect renters, like making it a requirement for landlords to have a solid legal reason if they want to evict someone. A significant new rule was also introduced: landlords can’t try to evict tenants unless they owe more than a month’s worth of rent, which is around $2,000 for a one-bedroom place now.

The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles didn’t agree with these new protections and took them to court, where the disputes are still ongoing.

Despite the new rule, some landlords still threatened to evict tenants for owing less than the allowed amount. The city’s data shows over 11,000 eviction notices were sent out for rent amounts under this limit. These notices might lead to a court case, but it’s not clear how many actually do.

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Since the pandemic, there’s been a big effort to help renters facing eviction through Stay Housed L.A., a joint project by the city, county, and local groups. This initiative has really upped the availability of legal advice and services for renters. Over 2,000 tenants got full legal help, and around 5,200 received some help, according to Elana Eden from the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. Yet, many tenants facing court still don’t get the legal support they need.

For those who can’t find a lawyer, there’s some help out there. The Eviction Defense Network started a “Tenant Empowerment Program” to teach renters how to defend themselves in court.

City leaders are also trying to fix the problem of renters not having access to legal assistance. This month, they asked the city’s lawyer to write up a law that would guarantee legal help for qualifying renters in eviction cases. However, finding enough lawyers for this is tough, say those who are fighting to prevent homelessness and keep communities intact.

“Our reality is there are not enough attorneys,” said Pamela Agustin, coalition director for Eastside LEADS, one of the community groups that partners with Stay Housed L.A. “We are doing this work to prevent homelessness, to keep families in our communities, to stop displacement. But it is happening.”

Maria Briones, a 68-year-old disabled woman, faced several eviction attempts by her landlord over a few months from the South L.A. apartment she and her brother lived in. Briones had been living in her small apartment for around 10 years, paying $525 a month.Top of Form

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“Sometimes I just felt like running away,” she said. “But where would I go? There was nowhere to go.”

Briones was more fortunate than many renters because she found a lawyer to defend her. Kaimi Wenger, a lead lawyer at the Tenant Defense Project with Inner City Law Center, was able to have the eviction notices dismissed because they weren’t filed correctly.

Despite this legal win, Briones ultimately had to leave her home after reporting its poor conditions, like the lack of electricity, to city authorities. The inspectors decided her apartment was illegal and unsafe to live in, and in September, Briones and her brother were told they had to leave within 10 days.

This left her without a home. For some time, she relied on the kindness of friends and family, sleeping on their couches. Eventually, city officials helped her move into a motel room close to where her old apartment was.

Now, she’s staying in a motel, keeping her room tidy and minimal. She has a little food stored on a desk, including oatmeal, peanut butter, jelly, and beans. Mostly, she visits a friend’s place nearby when she needs to eat.

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While she appreciates having a private space, she’s aware this isn’t a long-term solution.

“I’m not on the street,” she said. “But it’s kind of nerve-racking when it comes to the future. If they can’t get me a permanent place, what is going to happen?”

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