WESTLAKE, Calif. — Inside the eviction defense network offices in Westlake, siblings and attorneys Nathaly and Stefano Medina are working to keep hundreds of low-income Angelenos in their home.
They’ve had a fighters spirit since they were little, activists, a bit peleones, meaning agitators.
“Nathaly was always going to be a litigator porque es peleona, and she’s good at that kind of thing,” said Stefano.
Nathaly jumps in laughing “I went from being very shy, to very peleona.”
“I went to law school because I was trying to find ways of fight gentrification that were more effective than what we were already doing,” said Stefano.
That’s because as much as they rallied and lobbied for new protections, it wasn’t translating on the streets.
“There are lots of tenant laws on the books but it requires an attorney to enforce them, and our community, low income communities cannot afford attorneys,” said Nathaly.
Nationwide only 10% of tenants have legal representation during eviction proceedings, compared to 90% of landlords, according to the Center for American Progress.
“The vast majority of judicial evictions that happen in Los Angeles today are default judgements, which means, tenants didn’t file an answer, that’s it. If you don’t do certain things by a certain deadline, you automatically lose; and it doesn’t matter if the landlord was wrong, it doesn’t matter if the landlord lied, or was evicting you for a reason that was actually illegal,” said Stefano.
Nearby lives Diana Castellanos a mother of three, who is in an eviction proceeding.
“It’s always that fear, like ok, well, what’s gonna happen? Where are we gonna go from here?” said Castellanos.
When the letters started coming from the landlord, she thought about just leaving.
“A lot of the tenants here in our apartment did leave, out of fear,” said Castellanos.
But the legal representation she got through the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment changed things overnight, as studies show that up to 77% of tenants win when they have a lawyer, compared to 6% when they don’t.
“Like I said, if I didn’t have these lawyers it would have been such a scary process, we probably would be out of our homes by now,” said Castellanos.
That’s why Diana along with Nathaly, Stefano and other tenant organizations have joined the Right to Counsel movement, to urge the city and county to pass a law that would provide a lawyer to every tenant facing eviction.
But not everyone agrees with the Right to Counsel movement, the California Apartment Association says:
“This misguided policy would make taxpayers foot the bill for private legal disputes. Most eviction notices are filed because a tenant has not paid their rent. Instead of using tax dollars to subsidize a non-paying tenant’s legal defense and clogging up the courts with more lawsuits, let’s take a more proactive approach and use those dollars to help struggling tenants pay their rent, put food on the table and pay for other essential services as the pandemic rages on.”
Right to counsel laws have been passed in other cities like New York, San Francisco, and Newark. Stefano hopes it happens here in L.A. as well, and soon, he said if that were to happen, it would be a game-changer.
“Every night, at the end of almost every day, when we’re done working, doing what do we do, we talk about the future, we talk about what we’ll be able to do for our community,” said Stefano.
But until then, they’ll keep helping anyone that walks through their doors, saving their homes, one case at a time.