L.A. City Council Members Want to Protect Renters With Right to An Eviction Attorney

Approximately 86% of tenants who show up to court with a lawyer remain housed, according to the proposed measure

A group of City Council members is proposing a program that would give the right to legal representation for tenants facing eviction, according to NBC Los Angeles

Six council members filed a motion on Tuesday seeking recommendations from the Los Angeles Housing Department on creating a Right to Counsel ordinance. The recommendation is part of the city’s ongoing endeavors to beef up protections for renters and is aimed at tenants earning 80 percent or less than the area’s median income, reports the Los Angeles Daily News.

“We are trying to build a city where if you end up in a situation where … if you’re in danger of losing your housing, that someone will be there to support you,” City Councilmember  Nithya Raman said at a rally at City Hall on Tuesday.

Right to Counsel is a national movement that says tenants should have a lawyer if they appear in eviction court. According to Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, a Los Angeles grassroots community development group, 90 percent of tenants facing eviction do not have legal representation while 90 percent of landlords arrive in court with counsel. (The same numbers on the part of tenants echo in New York City, according to The City‘s numbers from the state court system).

Council members said the program would seek funds from Measure ULA, a bill that passed in November which enacted a 4% tax on the sale or transfer of properties valued at more than $5 million,  to fund the counsel program for lower-income tenants. However, Measure ULA is currently in litigation.

Backers say that tax is expected to raise between $600 million and $1.1 billion annually, with the majority of the yield going toward affordable housing and tenant assistance programs, NBC Los Angeles reports.

“Finally, we are getting the money that we need to make the right-to-counsel program work,” said City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who called the measure a game changer.”When you’re potentially being evicted, the deck is stacked against you.”

The ballot measure states that the program is necessary because the majority of the estimated 30,000 Angelenos who receive eviction notices each year have no access to an attorney and “do not know how to exercise their rights.”

Having counsel makes a major difference: In municipalities with a right to counsel protection, approximately 86% of tenants remain housed, according to the proposed measure.

The City Council instructed the LAHD to meet in 60 days and to come up with information on pricing for the program, including staff costs.

Several weeks ago, the Council passed three major tenant protections, including one around universal just cause, which will require a reason for evictions, relocation assistance for tenants who move out due to a major rent increase, and a one-month grace period for tenants behind on rent prior to eviction actions.

“We made good on our promise,” Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez said. “We passed three renter protections. This will give folks at least an ability to have an even fight— because we know that when these things happen, people stay inside of their home.”

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