Served with an eviction notice? This California Website Can Help – GV Wire

In April, Juan Carlos Cruz Mora received an eviction notice from his landlord alleging he caused property damage and dirty and unsafe living conditions at the suburban Sacramento duplex he had lived in for 10 years. He had only five days to file a response in court.

Manuela Tobias

Cal Matters

Mora, who blamed his landlord for the issues, tried to file a response himself with the court, but feared a mistake could land him, his wife and two young children on the streets. He said he paid a lawyer $1,000 to help him.

“With one word, I could lose the case,” he said in Spanish.

Thousands of California renters lose their homes every year because they don’t file that first answer in court. Failure to check the correct box or file a timely response could, in effect, trigger a default judgment against them.

Link to tenant’s website

A group of tenant advocates and lawyers have launched a tool that they hope will change that. The Tenant Power Toolkit can be found at this link.

More than 50 tenant advocates and attorneys from the Debt Collective, LA Tenants Union, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality & Democracy, and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment worked on Tenant Power Toolkit over the past two years. — a mostly volunteer effort, says Hannah Appel, a UCLA anthropology professor, who came up with the idea based on her work as a co-founder of the Debt Collective.

The website they created looks like tax filing software. It asks tenants a long series of questions in relatively simple English or Spanish, which produces a legal document they can print out and submit to court. Los Angeles County tenants can file documents electronically. If they wish, tenants can connect with other tenants and legal aid organizations through the website.

The questions vary depending on the type of eviction and the location. For example, if their city has rent control for people over 65 who have lived in the building for five years, the tool will ask tenants for their age and how long they have lived in the building. and will invoke this defense on paper, even if tenants did not know the protection existed.

Of more than 129,000 eviction cases filed between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, at least 24,000 tenants lost their lawsuits by default judgment, according to Judicial Council data. That’s 46% of cases before the courts that reported their results – something most courts don’t. Default judgments fell to 7,600, or 40% of reported findings, last year due to statewide eviction protections.

“As a lawyer, it really pained me to see tenants lose cases just because they couldn’t file papers,” said UCLA law professor Gary Blasi, one of the main housing lawyers behind the tool. He called it the first of its kind nationally.

Only 1% of Fresno tenants see a lawyer

Legalese isn’t the only thing stopping a tenant from filing a response, according to Amber Crowell, associate professor of sociology at Fresno State and housing coordinator at Faith in the Valley. Tenants often leave their homes before going through the eviction process because they think they have no chance in court. Losing a deal can hurt a person’s credit and their chance of renting another home.

The tool gives tenants at least 10 days to file an amended response and find a lawyer before trial. But its creators warn that the website is no substitute for a lawyer. Access to legal aid remains rare for tenants, who are represented nationally by a lawyer in 10% of cases, according to the ACLU. That statistic drops to 1% in Fresno, Crowell found in a 2019 study. Blasi expects the tool to have a bigger impact in places where people have better access to legal help.

“In an ideal world, the tool wouldn’t be needed at all,” Blasi said.

Mora will defend himself in his next trial as he was unhappy with the private lawyer he hired and unable to find free legal aid.

Although it was set up on a “squeeze budget”, the group hopes to attract more philanthropic and state funding to keep the tool up to date, especially as local jurisdictions adopt new protections for tenants.

But money isn’t all they want from lawmakers. The groups argue that tenants should have the right to legal representation in court — efforts that have had little success at the state level. Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a watered down version of this past year’s bill to create a permanent legal services trust fund for tenants, as he argued there was already money for legal aid for tenants in the budget.

About the Author

Manuela Tobias is the housing reporter for CalMatters. Manuela previously covered income inequality and survival at The Fresno Bee for the California Divide. She holds a BA in Comparative Literature from Georgetown University. CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California politics and politics.

About William G. Patrick

Check Also

Patagonia Founder Offers Business ‘To Planet Earth’

As Chouinard explained in an open letter he penned for the announcement, from the start, …