LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles City Council will vote on a sweeping package of tenant protections in the coming weeks, but tenants’ rights advocates say a crucial ordinance is missing — the renter’s right to counsel.

Organizers with Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, or SAJE, joined the Right to Counsel Coalition of Los Angeles to host a town hall in LA’s historic South-Central neighborhood Wednesday night.

What You Need To Know

  • City of LA's eviction moratorium ended Jan. 31, but the County of LA extended its eviction moratorium through the end of March 2023

  • LA City Council recently adopted a series of tenant protections, including an ordinance that requires universal “just cause” for evictions, and ordinance that allows tenants behind on rent to stay in their apartments for a month, as well as an ordinance requiring landlords to pay relocation assistance to tenants who can't afford rent increases and have to move out

  • According to the National Equity Atlas roughly 226,000 LA County households are behind on rent

During the meeting, renters who are facing eviction came to learn more about their rights, as well as their options for seeking legal advice. Dozens of renters were there in person, and more than 100 joined via Zoom. 

One man in attendance, Jose “Joey” Lopes, said he is two months behind on rent. Lopes said he used up most of his savings to pay rent during the first year of the pandemic. Recently, his mother became infected with COVID-19 and fell incredibly ill, ultimately needing heart surgery. The medical bills piled on and his full-time job as a Door Dash delivery driver wasn’t providing enough income to cover all of his costs.

Lopes decided to apply for rent relief, but he said: “It’s very hard to fill out. You know, like I always say, any form that difficult, is like an IRS form.”

If he had a free lawyer, Lopes said, it would be easier to understand his rights as a renter and fill out these applications. And if he were to get evicted and decide to fight his eviction in court, Lopes would feel more comfortable knowing an attorney could help defend him.

It’s something Council member Nithya Raman, who represents LA’s 4th District, has been advocating for, for at least two years.

“All of these rights, unless you have access to a lawyer to be able to realize those rights in practice, they’re sometimes hard for us to actually be able to say I am a tenant, I can be here I can stay here,” Raman said.

She attended Wednesday night’s town hall to assure renters she will soon introduce a motion at City Hall to codify a renter’s right to counsel. But Raman said she knows that funding such a program will be challenging.

“Right to counsel presents an additional challenge, because it will take additional fiscal resources on the part of the city to make sure that we’re actually funding the lawyers, that can do eviction defense work. That means we have to find a source for that funding, and at a time when we might be heading into a period of economic uncertainty, that is a question that I think will be at the forefront of a lot of my colleagues’ minds and we have to make sure that we find good answers to that.”

Answers that renters like Lopes are hoping will come sooner than later.