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City Council Approves Settlement Protecting Property Rights of Homeless People

Los Angeles, CA (June 14, 2017) – This morning the Los Angeles City Council approved a settlement that puts an end to the illegal seizure by the Los Angeles Downtown Industrial District of homeless people’s unattended belongings. The settlement brings to a close a 2014 lawsuit brought by the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, and four individual homeless plaintiffs against the City and the Los Angeles Downtown Industrial District, a business improvement district (BID) covering Skid Row. The BID and plaintiffs have also entered into a settlement agreement.

The lawsuit stemmed from the Los Angeles Downtown Industrial District’s practice of removing homeless people’s belongings when the individuals left their belongings unattended, often for only short periods of time to go to doctor’s appointments, get meals or use the restroom. The lawsuit also alleged that the City and the LAPD enabled the BID to engage in these practices, both by creating and maintaining the BID. LAPD officers stood and watched as BID officers took people’s belongings, despite an injunction against Los Angeles that prevented the City from taking the property itself.

“Courts have already prevented the City from taking homeless people’s belongings that are simply left unattended. The settlements with both the Los Angeles Downtown Industrial District and the City of Los Angeles ensure that the Business Improvement District and its employees will not violate homeless people’s constitutional rights, and that the City will not circumvent these court orders and the Constitution by enlisting the BID to take people’s property,” said Shayla Myers of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

As part of the settlement, the City agrees not to enlist any BID officers in the confiscation of property, and the LAPD will issue a training bulletin to its officers regarding the terms of the agreement. A separate Consent Decree with the BID prevents the BID from seizing unattended property unless it is abandoned and provides for training and monitoring of BID officers.

Catherine Sweetser of Schonbrun Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP, one of the attorneys for the Plaintiffs, said, “The settlement agreement provides both clear guidelines for security personnel working for the Downtown Industrial District to follow and additional instruction for LAPD officers, in order to ensure that homeless residents of Los Angeles are not arbitrarily deprived of their belongings.”

“Of course we are happy with the settlement and happy this matter has been resolved,” said Pete White of LA CAN. “But we are much more looking forward to an ultimate end to the City, or any government entity, illegally seizing the property of homeless residents. At a time when homelessness is up 20% in LA, BIDs and the City need to focus more on housing and serving homeless residents and less on taking their blankets, tents, IDs, etc., which only makes it harder for folks to get off the streets.”

The LA Catholic Worker, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, saw many of the free shopping carts they distribute to serve homeless residents destroyed. “What a victory for the people of Skid Row!” said Jeff Dietrich of the LA Catholic Worker. “The shopping carts and other items we provide are for the people on the Row to use to survive, not to get taken by the BID security force who didn’t want them on the sidewalk. We have won today, but we must continue to struggle and be vigilant.”

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