Starting Tuesday, tenants facing an eviction notice in California now have a free, automated tool available to help them file an initial response, which can be a confusing process, and if filed improperly or past the 5-day deadline, can result in renters quickly losing their homes.
Those in need can now turn to the Tenant Power Toolkit, a collaborative effort between the the Debt Collective, the LA Tenants Union, the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, anti-eviction lawyers and legal service providers, including Gary Blasi, one of California’s best-known housing justice lawyers.
“As a lawyer it really pained me to see tenants lose cases just because they couldn’t file a piece of paper,” Blasi told non-profit news organization CalMatters.
According Judicial Council data from more than 129,000 eviction cases filed between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, at least 24,000 tenants lost their court cases in a default judgment.
Hannah Appel, an anthropology professor at UCLA, came up with the idea for the public service, which came into fruition over the last two years, thanks largely to volunteers.
“We designed this toolkit to keep people in their homes, fight evictions, fight rent debt, and build the collective power of tenants,” reads a statement on the website. “Together, we have the power not only to fight back against the system, but to change it.”
The website works similarly to tax return software, asking tenants a series of questions in English or Spanish, ultimately producing a legal document they can print and submit in court. Los Angeles County tenants can file paperwork electronically.
“We help you fight your eviction and your rent debt, link you with legal resources and tenants’ rights groups, and our housing justice work including collective action campaigns,” the website states.
The toolkit, which can give low-income and non-English speaking residents a fighting chance to defend against unlawful evictions, was assembled on a small budget, but the group hopes to receive additional financing from philanthropic and state funding to maintain it as local jurisdictions pass new tenant protections.
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