Southern California’s largest landlord organization is appealing a judge’s decision denying its bid to reverse Los Angeles’ eviction ban and rent freeze enacted during the COVID-19 pandemicy.
The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles is seeking to expedite a hearing before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on a date no later than mid-January. AAGLA filed its lawsuit against the city in Los Angeles federal court this past June challenging the eviction ban, prohibitions on late fees and interest on unpaid rent, and moratorium on annual rent increases.
U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson’s order last month keeps in place citywide ordinances designed to protect tenants during the public health crisis.
“While we were disappointed in the decision by the lower District Court, we knew from the beginning and it has always been our strategy to quickly move our case along to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where we will not be stymied by precedent that fails to squarely address the government’s irresponsible and illegal response to the pandemic,” Daniel Yukelson, AAGLA’s executive director, said in a statement released Monday.
“We are certain that this next step in the legal process will lead to the invalidation of the city’s moratoria,” he said. “The higher-level courts are in a far better position to address the complicated issues we seek adjudication of. In the event the Ninth Circuit does not rule favorably, we are prepared to deploy other legal strategies and, when and if necessary, appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court where we are certain we will more likely receive a chance for a favorable ruling.”
According to tenants’ rights organizations, AAGLA’s lawsuit seeks to void the city’s eviction protection and rent freeze ordinances, thereby allowing its members to engage in mass evictions during the pandemic.
“The governing bodies of Los Angeles have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where having housing is a matter of life or death,” tenants’ attorney Faizah Malik said after Pregerson’s denial of an injunction. “The city’s eviction protection and rent freeze ordinances have been crucial to keeping tenants stably housed during the pandemic and preventing the spread of the virus. We’re pleased with the court’s ruling in favor of the health and safety of all residents in the city.”
The court held that even though some landlords are facing financial hardships, their interests must “yield precedence to the vital interests of the public as a whole.”
Yukelson said that the landlords organization previously “provided absolute proof that landlords have or will be adversely impacted by the city’s onerous and unfair moratoria. The U.S. District Court did not fully agree with our argument that the city has interfered with our proof or our lease contracts in violation of the U.S. Constitution. We look forward to demonstrating the irreparable harm being done to the city’s landlords by the unfair and illegal moratoria in this next step in the process.”
Listening to public health and housing experts, Pregerson found that the “economic damage the pandemic has wrought, if left unmediated by measures such as the city moratorium, would likely trigger a tidal wave of evictions that would not only inflict misery upon many thousands of displaced residents, but also exacerbate a public health emergency that has already radically altered the daily life of every city resident, and even now threatens to overwhelm community resources.”
Pregerson joined judges across the country in affirming the principle that cities can constitutionally give tenants a lifeline during the public health emergency, tenants’ lawyer Rohit Nath said.
The toll of the crisis has weighed most heavily on low-income tenants of color who make up ACCE Action and SAJE’s membership base, said Edna Monroy, director of organizing for SAJE.
She added that a majority of ACCE Action and SAJE members have lost income during the pandemic and are struggling to pay rent. Those that kept their jobs are frontline workers who are risking contracting COVID-19 every day because they have no other choice, Monroy said.
Despite the challenges they are facing, many members are trying to pay rent, at the expense of other necessities like food. But many tenants simply cannot keep up with the rent as the pandemic continues, she said.
“Without eviction protections, hundreds of thousands of families are at risk of being displaced,” Monroy said. “The current protections are the hard-fought results of persistent organizing and have delayed an even worse crisis. Evicting families while we are in the midst of another wave of the pandemic and during an ongoing housing and homelessness crisis would be a humanitarian disaster.”
Yolanda N., a tenant and member of SAJE, said that since the pandemic began, “I haven’t been able to find work as a house cleaner, and am now several months behind on rent. If I were evicted, I wouldn’t have anywhere to go.”