Los Angeles – Groups representing tens of thousands of Los Angeles tenants—most of them Black and Latinx—are seeking permission to intervene in a lawsuit that threatens to unravel the city’s eviction moratorium and push countless low-income tenants into homelessness. The tenant groups—Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, Coalition for Economic Survival, and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action—were instrumental in the passage of two city ordinances protecting tenants during the pandemic and slow economic recovery. Now they are asking to join in defending those ordinances against a legal attack by a local billionaire developer.
The ordinances have helped the city stave off a wave of evictions and kept countless families from having to move into overcrowded housing and shelters, where the virus spreads with ease. They have also protected the city’s dwindling stock of rent-stabilized units.
“These are arguably the most important pandemic-era protections the city has enacted, and they have spared us from disastrous increases in infections and homelessness,” said attorney Rachel Steinback of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County Attorney, which filed the motion Monday with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Public Counsel and Susman Godfrey, LLC. “If this challenge is successful, the consequences for our city will be devastating.”
The lawsuit challenging the moratorium, GHP Management Corporation v City of Los Angeles, was filed in August by Geoffrey Palmer, a staunch opponent of tenant protections whose company owns more than 15,000 units. It claims the moratorium violates the 5th Amendment’s “takings clause,” which prohibits governments from taking private property for public use without “just compensation.”
“District courts across the country have rejected similar constitutional challenges to COVID-19 tenant protections,” said the Legal Aid Foundation’s Ryan Kendall. “They have found that governments have a right—and an obligation—to protect vulnerable residents in the midst of an international catastrophe.”
Two of the tenant groups asking to join the city as defendants in the lawsuit were allowed to intervene in a similar lawsuit filed last year by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. That lawsuit, which is still pending, has so far failed to invalidate the moratorium (a district court rejected the landlords’ request for a preliminary injunction, and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed).
“Now the same lawyers are representing the developer in this case, and there’s no question it should be thrown out,” said Halley Josephs of Susman Godfrey. “Our clients, who represent low-income tenants across the city, have a critical role to play in defending the moratorium and demonstrating why this lawsuit should not succeed.”
The tenants protected by the moratorium live in neighborhoods where rates of infection, serious illness, and death were dramatically higher than those in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. The economic impact of the virus also hit these communities particularly hard, and the recovery has been slow.
“This virus has not exacted an equal toll,” said Faizah Malik of Public Counsel. “The families in these communities still need the city to protect them.”
Read the intervention papers HERE.
Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) is a steadfast advocate for individuals, families, and communities throughout Los Angeles County. Each year NLSLA provides free assistance to more than 100,000 people through innovative projects that address the most critical needs of people living in poverty. Through a combination of individual representation, high impact litigation and public policy advocacy, NLSLA combats the immediate and long-lasting effects of poverty and expands access to health, opportunity, and justice in Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods. Visit www.nlsla.org
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors. Visit www.lafla.org
Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Founded in 1970, Public Counsel strives to achieve three main goals: protect the legal rights of disadvantaged children; represent immigrants who have been the victims of torture, persecution, domestic violence, trafficking, and other crimes; and foster economic justice by providing individuals and institutions in underserved communities with access to quality legal representation. Through a pro bono model that leverages the talents and dedication of thousands of attorney and law student volunteers, along with an in-house staff of more than 75 attorneys and social workers, Public Counsel annually assists more than 30,000 families, children, immigrants, veterans, and nonprofit organizations and addresses systemic poverty and civil rights issues through impact litigation and policy advocacy. For more information, visit www.publiccounsel.org
Susman Godfrey is a nationwide law firm of more than 140 trial lawyers. We handle high-stakes litigation in a broad range of practice areas and industries, for both plaintiffs and defendants. We are creative in finding the fee arrangement—contingent, flat, hourly, or hybrid—that best suits a client’s case. With a relentless focus on winning at trial, Susman Godfrey has been ranked by Vault as the #1 litigation boutique in America for 11 consecutive years. Visit susmangodfrey.com to learn more about our unique approach to winning cases. For more information visit www.susmangodfrey.com