Evictions Proceeding in LA Courts Despite COVID, Moratorium
By Ray Jones and Michael Novick
Earlier this year, Public Counsel filed suit on behalf of itself and numerous LA-area legal aid organizations, to demand the LA Superior Court shut down, rather than continuing civil trials on traffic citations and “unlawful detainer” – eviction – proceedings. Their claim is that the needless court actions endanger the health of the poor people being dragged into court needlessly, and the attorneys who represent them.
“This lawsuit highlights how perfunctory rules and docket-clearing measures in the largest municipal court system in the country disproportionately impact the poorest and most vulnerable communities in Los Angeles,” said Indira Cameron-Banks, directing attorney at Inner City Law Center. “When we are being ordered into courtrooms for non-essential traffic and eviction proceedings, we become human shields protecting our clients’ rights and their lives. Despite our best efforts, our clients are often ordered into the courtroom with us. Together, we wait in crowded hallways and courtrooms where social distancing is impossible. The result is that we and our clients are unnecessarily placed at risk of contracting COVID.”
Public Counsel attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow Lauren Zack describes overcrowding, extended periods of waiting in unventilated spaces and the impossibility of maintaining six feet of distance from others. “These matters are not time-sensitive and should be postponed. No one should have to risk their life to appear in court,” said Zack.
The courtrooms largely handle low-income and under-resourced Black and Latinx Angelenos, people facing homelessness in ‘unlawful detainer’ actions. The consequences for not appearing in court are severe, including eviction despite Federal, state, city and county moratoriums on eviction through at least the end of September. Things will only get worse as the US Supreme Court just ruled the Federal moratorium established by the Centers for Disease Control is unconstitutional. The AP reports that White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden was “disappointed” by the decision and “is once again calling on all entities that can prevent evictions — from cities and states to local courts, landlords, Cabinet Agencies — to urgently act to prevent evictions.”
“Nearly 70% of LAFLA’s clients are Black or Latinx, and all are low-income individuals and families. These are the communities at greatest risk for infection and death from COVID-19. It is inequitable for the courts to require members of these vulnerable communities to appear in court at a time when the dangers of being in close proximity with people from other households are universally recognized,” noted LAFLA Executive Director Silvia Argueta. “As members of the legal services community, we are taking a stand against the injustice of this policy – and calling for greater protection for our clients, court employees, and our staff by postponing in-person court matters until it is safe to gather in large groups.”
The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit just rejected an appeal by the Apartment (owners) Association of Greater L.A. seeking an injunction against the city of Los Angeles, SAJE and other groups over the city’s moratorium on evictions. The court reasoned: “We need not decide whether the eviction moratorium is a substantial impairment of contractual relations because even assuming it is, given the challenges that COVID-19 presents, the moratorium’s provisions constitute an ‘appropriate and reasonable way to advance a significant and legitimate public purpose.’ Sveen, 138 S. Ct. at 1822 … we conclude that AAGLA is unlikely to show that the eviction moratorium is an unreasonable fit for the problems identified.” https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2021/08/25/20-56251.pdf
Yet despite the city’s eviction moratorium having been upheld in court and now on appeal, and despite the extension of similar moratoriums by the LA County Board of Supervisors, the state of California, and now the federal CDC, evictions are proceeding in LA Superior Court. What’s more, the Washington Post revealed that only a miniscule portion of the money the feds allocated for rent relief and subsidies has actually made its way to the states, and an even smaller fraction has actually been paid out by the states to renters needing assistance in paying rent during the pandemic in order to avoid eviction. Housing rights advocates are predicting a tsunami of evictions as the moratoriums lapse later this month. Compounding the problem, the US Supreme Court by a 6-3 majority (all conservatives appointed by minority GOP presidents) voted to declare the CDC’s public health moratorium on evictions to be unconstitutional! Here are a couple of pointers towards getting help: https://legalfaq.org/covid/ca/losangelescounty/losangeles and https://legalfaq.org/getHelp/ca/losangelescounty/losangeles#financialAssistance
What’s more, thousands of housing units have already been lost to short-term rentals. It should be illegal to convert housing into a de-facto hotel. Now City councilmembers are considering a loophole to allow the ultra-wealthy to list their second homes as vacation rentals instead of housing units. That would cost Los Angeles an estimated 14,740 housing units. Act now and send a letter to urge your councilmember to reject the vacation rental amendment. https://actionnetwork.org/letters/protect-affordable-housing-tell-la-city-council-vote-no-on-vacation-rentals-amendment