Oppose – Free Attorneys to all Eviction Cases

Let’s start at the beginning.  Six years ago, our good friend, Mike Feuer, and others passed a state law called the Shriver Act.  It provided to all indigent tenants the absolute right to an attorney – to be paid for by the County.  This program runs from the several “eviction hubs” with jurisdiction located at the Los Angeles courthouse.  It has cost the state millions of dollars and has not changed the outcome of any eviction proceeding, other than to create more chaos, problems and delays in the process.  You’ve heard the stores of General Counsel, BASTA, Legal Aid, Western Center on Law and Poverty and others using their position to “extort” blood money from landlords to allow the tenants to remain in the units for six months, rent free, and then voluntarily surrender, whereby the eviction protocol is sealed.  New landlords don’t know whether or not the potential new tenant has a history or record of evictions.

Extortion?

Yes, this is called extortion.  These attorneys tell the eviction lawyers for the owner to payer $10,000 otherwise they will fight for a year or longer.  The lawyers come to court and for a delay or continuance.  All during this time, the tenants are living in the rental units without paying rent.  Yes, they’re causing waste and destruction.  This system is bad. Sometimes the tenants simply can’t pay their rent.  It happens – but rather than make a deal with the landlord, they run to an eviction lawyer who fabricates and creates ridiculous, false habitability issues. I think that simple landlord-tenants disputes with the amount of controversy of less than $5,000 should go to Small Claims Court.  Keep the lawyers out of the deal.

Evictions – Summary Proceedings

Historically, evictions are to be expedited proceedings. A lawsuit is served and then the tenant has five days in which to respond.  The matter must be set for trial within 20 days.  By including attorneys, they’ll file for a mandatory jury trial which will extend the proceeding by another six months or longer!

Not Enough Judges!

We’ve lost our judicial assets.  We don’t have the staff or the court rooms.  Courthouses in San Pedro, Avalon, West Los Angeles, Culver City and Beverly Hills have been shut down.  Also, some courthouses in East Los Angeles and Hollywood.  That’s just in a part of southern California.  Throw in the rest of the state and you discover a real mess!

Who Suffers – Who Benefits?

Those cases involving criminal misconduct in the neighborhood will be delayed.  Cases involving child custody, visitation and child support will also be delayed.  Every aspect of our criminal justice system and civil litigation will be compromised and delayed.  This is all wrong. Yes, a few tenant eviction lawyers and activists want this deal.  They’re greedy.  If you give an attorney an opportunity to have “unlimited” billable hours, he or she will certainly submit bills that far exceed the intrinsic value of the case. I am a trial lawyer.  I respect colleagues in my profession, however, there are always a “few bad apples” who will spoil the entire barrel.  This is a bad concept and a terrible allocation of resources.  I urge all politicians who want justice to stand up and VOTE NO on this out of balance system!

Section 8 Opposed!

We’re all currently well aware that the Section 8 Program has a long history of deception, mismanagement and fraud.  For many years, Section 8 money was illegally transferred or earmarked to friends, associates and relatives of high-ranking leaders at the Los Angeles Housing Authority and others.  Over the last 10 years, there have been several litigated cases wherein landlords were prevented and prohibited from voluntarily withdrawing from the Section 8 program.  Contractually, they were locked in perpetuity. Some recent cases found that where a tenant was dropped from the program, the tenant’s rental contribution became the “base rent” and to that extent, no eviction could occur.

Problems with Section 8

So, the program has problems.  First, the rental levels are not consistent with “realistic market rents”.  Second, the process of investigating and processing a voucher application takes many weeks or longer.  Next, if a tenant complains, the program automatically “abates” the rental payments.  Then, the payments are not made timely.  The contract is as thick as a metropolitan phone book, and there are no mechanisms for a landlord to opt out at any time! So, those landlords who want to participate cannot do so.  No tenant is being denied or discriminated against.  It’s the program that is so arduous, restrictive, oppressive, over-regulated and difficult which is destroying the opportunity. The program is not vetting or investigating the voucher holders. There are felony criminals and people with a long history of failure to pay rent or a history of committing damage or waste to the premises.

So, Los Angeles leaders should negotiate with HUD.  Create a new program.  After all, Santa Monica got special waivers and the rents on the all of the units are dramatically elevated. It is the failure of leadership and HUD to resolve the problems that make the Section 8 Program and voucher program undesirable, legally inappropriate and poorly managed.

Michael Millman is an Attorney and a Mar Vista activist and can be reached at (310) 477-1201.