The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office recently launched an initiative with Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles to provide legal assistance and support for tenants facing eviction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a April 8 press release announcing the pilot, Santa Monica’s Right to Counsel program is available to Santa Monica tenant households whose income is at or below 80% of the County’s Area Medium Income (“AMI”), which was $80,000 in 2021, and facing eviction attempts by their landlord. The program is available to qualifying Santa Monica tenants regardless of their immigration status and is accessible at www.stayhousedla.org.
The launch includes a contract with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), the non-profit law firm for low-income residents, to provide full-scope eviction defense services in which LAFLA attorneys will represent tenants in court. The contract builds on Stay Housed L.A. County, a partnership between the County of Los Angeles, legal aid groups and community-based organizations to provide emergency support to low-income tenants in need.
”The City’s Right to Counsel program will help level the playing field for Santa Monica tenants facing evictions in proceedings where their landlords are represented by experienced attorneys,” said George Cardona, Interim City Attorney. “We look forward to collaborating with LAFLA and Stay Housed L.A. County on this pilot project, which is particularly important due to the pandemic’s impacts.”
The program will help address what is expected to be a wave of evictions in the wake of the public health and economic crises created by the COVID-19 emergency. City and state eviction moratoriums have delayed and blunted the impact of potential early evictions, but there is little doubt that among Santa Monica’s 32,000-plus renter households, the COVID-19 emergency will result in a significant number of tenants who will continue to be unable to pay rent and face eviction efforts.
Those eviction efforts will occur, studies have shown, in a system stacked against unrepresented tenants. According to the 2019 STOUT report, Cost-Benefit Analysis of Providing A Right to Counsel to Tenants In Eviction Proceedings, Los Angeles County’s most vulnerable tenants are frequently unrepresented and evicted by landlords who are represented by experienced counsel. Providing tenants with counsel is critical to leveling the playing field and would significantly improve the likelihood that eviction cases are decided fairly and on their merits. According to STOUT, 97% of Los Angeles County tenants are unrepresented in eviction cases while landlords are unrepresented in just 12% of their cases. Unrepresented tenants in LA County get displaced 99% of the time, but if they get representation, they avoid displacement 95% of the time.
Barbara J. Schultz, Director of Housing Justice with LAFLA stated: “LAFLA and all our partners in Stay Housed L.A. County are thrilled to work with the Santa Monica City’s Attorney’s Office on this exciting new project, and hope that this is the first step towards a full Renter’s Right to Counsel in Santa Monica and other Los Angeles jurisdictions.”
Tenants can visit www.stayhousedla.org for general information or call 1-888-694-0040 (LAFLA) for legal services.