Tenant Defense Collaborative
Last month the Aspen Institute published a study indicating that by September 1, the number of households at high risk of eviction in Los Angeles County would reach 420,000, including about 642,000 children. Local, state, and federal actions have imposed restrictions on evictions during the pandemic. However, with the exception of the CDC emergency order effective September 4, those laws do no more than allowing a tenant to assert an affirmative defense in an answer that must be filed within 5 business days after receiving an unlawful detainer summons and complaint. While 95% of landlord plaintiffs in Los Angeles have lawyers, for tenants the number is closer to 5%. In normal times, about two thirds of all tenants are unable to file a timely answer, lose by default and are evicted within two or three weeks. In the pandemic, there are many more obstacles, the expected default rate is even higher, and the consequences are more deadly.
In response to this crisis, a Tenant Defense Collaborative of legal services lawyers, tenant organizations, civil rights groups, academics and software engineers is devising an on-line Eviction Defense Tool to enable many more tenants to file electronically answers to unlawful detainer complaints. Filing an answer, however, does not mean that a tenant will have a chance to present a defense. Tenants may also be served with discovery and motions in order to prevent them from having a trial. Moreover, many tenants will not have access to technology or the language skills to use the Tool.
To respond to both these issues, the Collaborative and low-income tenants are in desperate need of volunteers. Lawyers are needed to provide limited representation to tenants to help them respond to discovery and motions. Lawyers can join the effort here. Non-lawyers are needed to speak with tenants by telephone and enter the information they provide into the Tool for them. Non-lawyers can volunteer here.