'Right to Counsel' Program to Help Tenants Facing Evictions
Pilot project will help address the anticipated wave of evictions triggered by the pandemic
April 15, 2021
By Samuel Alioto
The City of Santa Monica this week launched its pilot Right to Counsel project, an initiative to provide legal assistance and support for tenants facing eviction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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 officials said in a press release.
Local 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,” said city officials.
“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 Interim City Attorney George Cardona,
The counsel program is available to local tenants “whose income is at or below 80% of the County’s Area Medium Income – which is reportedly $80,000 – and facing eviction attempts by their landlord,” city officials said. The program is available to qualifying Santa Monica tenants regardless of their immigration status.
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, where 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, officials said.
Those eviction efforts will occur, studies have shown, in a system stacked against unrepresented tenants, the press release stated. According to a 2019 STOUT report, Los Angeles County’s most vulnerable tenants are frequently unrepresented and evicted by landlords who are represented by experienced counsel. “Unrepresented tenants in LA County get displaced 99% of the time, but if they get representation, they avoid displacement 95% of the time,” city officials said.
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 http://www.stayhousedla.org for general information or call 1-888-694-0040 (LAFLA) for legal services.