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Los Angeles considering providing attorneys to tenants facing eviction

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But not all tenants, says councilmember

Apartment fire escape
New rules would make it easier for tenants to obtain legal representation.
Natalia Macheda | Shutterstock

Los Angeles officials took the first step today toward giving renters facing eviction access to attorneys and information about their legal rights under the city’s complicated housing rules.

In a unanimous vote, the City Council approved a motion from Councilmember Paul Koretz calling on city staff to to develop a plan for a “right to counsel” policy similar to those passed recently in New York and San Francisco.

But LA’s program isn’t likely to provide tenants the same protections as those laws, which guarantee legal representation for all low-income renters whose landlords are attempting to evict them.

“What we’re not trying to do with this is give legal representation to everyone facing eviction,” Koretz told the council Friday. “Those who don’t need it and those who don’t deserve it are not individuals we’re looking to provide representation for.”

It’s not clear yet how the city would establish which tenants “deserve” representation, but Koretz suggested that renters being evicted for missing payments would be unlikely to qualify for the program.

“We’ve all been receiving calls from landlords who are concerned about this,” he noted.

Activists argue policies like those in New York and San Francisco are necessary to level the playing field when renters who can’t afford to pay for a lawyer are forced to challenge evictions in court—particularly when facing off against landlords or property managers who do have the budget for an attorney.

“There’s a much higher rate of eviction among those who are not able to afford legal representation,” Koretz said Friday.

The councilmember suggested that the program would also help the city in its efforts to combat homelessness.

“We did better this year at solving our problem with chronic homelessness,” he said, referring to data collected by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency in an annual count of unhoused residents.

“But those that we placed [into housing] were almost entirely replaced by new homeless,” he continued. “And that is happening partly because of unjustified evictions.”

According to the Eviction Lab, a research group at Princeton University, 3,255 renters in the city of Los Angeles were evicted from their homes in 2016—a relatively low number, given the city’s size.

But tenant advocates say that data doesn’t measure cases in which tenants don’t challenge evictions in court or are forced to move because of exorbitant rent increases or landlord negligence.

A 2014 analysis of San Francisco’s right to counsel pilot program found that the city may have saved more than $1 million providing legal representation to 609 tenants who were likely to become homeless if evicted.