In September 2020, the CDC issued an unprecedented eviction moratorium, which added to the patchwork of tenant protections in the wake of COVID-19. Understandably, tenants have found navigating renters’ rights difficult during this crucial time. With many tenants unable to afford a lawyer – crucial to winning an eviction case – LAFLA’s free legal services are more critical than ever for renters like Dennis, who was in danger of losing his home during the pandemic.
Dennis has lived in his Inglewood apartment with his family for more than 20 years, since he was a teenager. In September 2020, Dennis was issued a Sheriff’s order to vacate his home. Dennis, a single father of two young children distance learning from home (pictured above), was given five days to pack all their belongings and find a place to live. “Dennis called me in a panic and explained his situation,” said LAFLA Attorney Sarah Khanghahi. “With the support of the Eviction Defense Workgroup at LAFLA, we decided a Sheriff’s lockout in the middle of the pandemic would be a violation of the new CDC order.”
In the 21 years that Dennis had lived in his apartment, he had never encountered an unlawful detainer (eviction) action. In late 2019, LAFLA represented Dennis in his eviction case stemming from a delayed paycheck from a new employer, which prevented Dennis from paying his rent on time. “I was really afraid to go through this alone,” said Dennis. “I didn’t understand the legal jargon. I just wanted to make sure I had someone to help me.”
Unsure how the CDC order would be interpreted since Dennis’ unlawful detainer action was settled pre-COVID, LAFLA rushed to court on an ex-parte (emergency) motion, arguing the new CDC order should be applied to halt the Sheriff’s lock-out. However, the judge was not convinced the CDC order applied to Dennis’ case. “After spending several hours arguing the technicalities of the order at our initial hearing, the judge was not inclined to rule in our favor,” said Sarah. “It was frustrating knowing that this national order would become effectively useless if not applied by the courts.”
Questioning LAFLA’s interpretation of the moratorium, the judge ordered both Dennis and his landlord to provide the court with supplemental briefings outlining the details of the order. “I was doing everything in my power, but still didn’t have the proper information. Sarah went above and beyond on her own to help me,” said Dennis.
LAFLA was fortunate enough to partner with Michael Soloff, Partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson. Mike eagerly joined the team and served as co-counsel with Sarah to assist with the preparation of briefings and arguments regarding the applicability of the nationwide order. “I very much wanted to be involved in resisting the pending tsunami of evictions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this gave me an opportunity to start getting involved,” said Mike.
“It was a pleasure to work with Dennis and Mike,” added Sarah. “We didn’t give up even though the court had a tentative decision against us. We worked as a team.”
With the help of LAFLA and Munger, Tolles & Olson, a settlement was negotiated allowing Dennis and his two children to remain in their home indefinitely. Dennis’ tenancy was reinstated and the unlawful detainer action was dismissed. “It was very satisfying to play a role in keeping a family in their longtime home – especially to keep our client and his children safely housed in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mike.
“I never knew we had assistance programs like this until I went through this particular situation,” noted Dennis. “Thank you for being open and able to listen and put yourselves in the tenant’s shoes. Without your help, I really believe I would have been out on the street a long time ago.”
For those who need help with eviction-related issues, please call us at 800-399-4529. Help is also available through Stay Housed LA, including legal assistance and workshops. Please visit StayHousedLA.org or call (888) 694-0040. (You can learn more about Stay Housed LA in this blog post.)
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