New ‘Right to Counsel’ Bill Proposed by L.A. Council
This week, Los Angeles city council members proposed a bill that would aid tenants facing eviction by providing them with a free attorney. This is a concept that has been pushed by renter activists for many years but hasn’t seen major legislation beyond a few pilot programs.
Councilmember Nithya Raman explains that the council is able to get support for the new bill thanks to recent voter-approved homelessness funding via Measure ULA. With a clear source of funding for renter attorneys, more councilmembers are in support of the bill.
For tenants who are vulnerable, low-income, and facing eviction, this new bill could be a complete game-changer. In many eviction cases, landlords have access to legal representation and tenants may not. In fact, a report conducted in 2019 showed that as many as 97% of renters in L.A. were without an attorney during eviction court proceedings, whereas landlords have a lawyer in 88% of eviction cases. Without a lawyer, tenants are almost guaranteed to have a poor legal outcome.
If the bill passes a vote in the council, the housing department would have 60 days to create a plan for a right-to-counsel program for tenants. The plan would prioritize covering low-income tenants and those who are more vulnerable based on specific criteria, including ZIP code.
How Much Would a Right to Counsel Cost?
Measure ULA, which taxes property sales that earn at least $5 million, is estimated to bring in $600 million to $1.1 billion each year. Right-to-counsel efforts have already been allocated 10% of those funds, which went into effect on April 1st.
Estimates from a 2019 study indicated that a right-to-counsel program could cost the city of Los Angeles as much as $35 million each year. In order to ensure a smooth transition, the program would have a fine-year runway for full implementation.
Should this bill go into effect, property owners and landlords should expect to see eviction rates drop significantly. A similar program was implemented in New York City in 2017, and eviction filings fell by 30% when the majority of tenants were connected with attorneys.
In recent years, however, the city has struggled to keep up with the program. After removing COVID renter protections in early 2022, the number of tenants who secured a lawyer dropped to a mere 35% following the quickly increasing demand for legal assistance.
With many complications being seen in other cities, the exact funding and functionality of the L.A. program is yet to be determined.