Legal Services Housing Attorneys Find Small, but Significant Victory in California Supreme Court Ruling
Decision Protects Tenants From Malicious Evictions by Landlords Seeking to Oust Using Vacancy Decontrol Loophole
LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In a recent California Supreme Court ruling, the Court struck down one portion of a Santa Monica Ordinance designed to protect tenants from harassment. The Ordinance was passed in 1995 after enactment of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which allows landlords to decontrol rents when long-term tenants voluntarily vacate their units and creates an unfortunate incentive for landlord misconduct.
“The Court not only reinforced a multitude of state tenant protection laws, but also upheld a crucial section of the Santa Monica Ordinance that helps tenants when landlords with malice serve notices to quit and other eviction notices with no real intention of litigating.”
“Action Apartments represents a small but significant victory for tenants,” stated Elissa Barrett, director of Bet Tzedek Legal Service’s Housing Conditions Project. “The Court not only reinforced a multitude of state tenant protection laws, but also upheld a crucial section of the Santa Monica Ordinance that helps tenants when landlords with malice serve notices to quit and other eviction notices with no real intention of litigating.”
In Action Apartments, Bet Tzedek Legal Services and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), with the assistance of pro bono counsel at Jones Day, filed an amicus brief in support of the City of Santa Monica and participated in oral argument before the Supreme Court. The brief addressed how the California housing crisis, in combination with financial incentives created by statewide ‘vacancy decontrol,’ has unleashed a perfect storm on low-income tenants.
Added Denise McGranahan, a housing attorney with LAFLA: “The harm here is the way landlords abuse the legal system. Landlords wear people down by filing notice after frivolous notice, eviction after frivolous eviction. Even if a tenant has free legal assistance, the cost of answering an eviction complaint can be prohibitive ($180 if there is no fee waiver). If the landlord dismisses before trial, the tenant loses that money. If tenants go to trial without a lawyer, they lose 98 percent of the time even if their cases have merit.”
“The heaviest burden falls on the poorest to assert their legal rights to be free from harassment and other unlawful landlord conduct when economics, health, language and other factors already present barriers to their access to the courts,” Barrett added.