Evictions on the rise during California pandemic

A few weeks ago, Alma Quiñónez and her 10-year-old son protested in front of the Long Beach courthouse. (Jacqueline García / La Opinion)

Photo: (Jacqueline García / La Opinion) / Impremedia

Just two months after California’s moratorium on evictions expired and as COVID-19 infections spike amid the omicron variant, activists and tenant advocates report an increase in eviction cases.

This is happening even in places like the city and county of Los Angeles, which have protections to prevent families from being left without a roof to sleep on.

Organizations like the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) indicated that they have noticed the significant increase through their hotline and legal clinics that run where tenants arrive with eviction notices, illegal lockouts and harassment.

ACCE Los Angeles (ACCE LA) serves nearly 100 tenants weekly and has seen a significant increase in three-day eviction notices.

Joe Delgado, director of ACCE LA, said the organization has seen more than 180 illegal lockouts in Los Angeles alone during the month of October, indicating that evictions are taking place beyond ACCE’s reach.

This was the recent case of Alma Quiñónez, a mother who lived with her 10-year-old son in Wilmington, south of Los Angeles.

After more than a year of fights and court orders during the pandemic, the owner of the apartments where Quiñones lived refused to accept rent payments and sought to evict her even though she had a pending application for covid-19 rental assistance.

Evictions for non-payment of rent are illegal under the current Los Angeles eviction moratorium.

In November 2021, the sheriff came knocking on Quiñónez’s door to evict her and her son in a matter of minutes.

The eviction was so quick that Quiñónez left his machine that he uses to breathe at night, which is detrimental to his health. Days later, he appeared in court to defend himself and the judge ruled in his favor. However, this Tuesday he tried to return to his home and they changed the door knobs and he could not enter.

“I only saw that there is a tree lying there, but I don’t know if my things are still inside or if they have already been thrown away,” said Quiñónez, who arrived accompanied to the home of an ACCE organizer and a representative of councilman Joe Buscaino, from the district 15 which includes Wilmington.

Delgado said that if a landlord is breaking the law and is doing it in front of a city official or representative, there is a serious problem.

“The problem is that the city council and the mayor have to make sure that there is availability so that the housing department can get involved,” Delgado said.

The solutions

ACCE and other California housing organizations urge Governor Gavin Newsom and the state legislature to take swift action that includes reinstating the eviction ban in the pandemic, except for those necessary for the health and safety of tenants.

In addition, they ask the governor to close the loopholes in the state’s Just Cause law AB 1482, which allows landlords to end leases by falsely claiming “substantial rehabilitation.”

Delgado explained that harassment towards tenants must be stopped. For this, the amendments to the Anti-harassment of tenants Ordinance approved in August in the city of Los Angeles must be reinforced.

This includes financing access to justice. Currently only tenants with more money, who are very few, can access a lawyer.

Delgado said that it should be made clear that if a tenant suffers from landlord harassment, it is the landlord who must pay the attorney’s fees.

Currently it is not specified who will pay, and therefore the lawyers do not want to take the cases of the tenants for fear of not receiving their pay.

He also said that the ordinance must be made retroactive to at least April 2020, which is when the pandemic began and accelerated the sudden change of owners.

“So there has to be some retroactive activity to hold the owner accountable, who started harassing,” Delgado said.

Lastly, he stated that low- and very-low-income housing must be built at a faster rate.

“We are just not doing it. There are many homes out there at the moment that are already built and that could be incorporated into land trusts or incorporated into a social housing program for a non-profit organization, ”he stressed.