SGV Tribune

Effort to broaden LA’s ban on evictions amind coronavirus crisis fails in close City Council vote

Many of the members were swayed by the city attorney’s advice that such a sweeping ban would put the city at odds with state law

A bid by some Los Angeles leaders to enact a blanket ban on evictions during the novel coronvirus crisis failed on a 6-7 vote on Wednesday, April 22, held toward the end of a nearly nine-hour meeting in which the council adopted other measures aimed at providing protections to workers and relief to Angelenos.

Many of the members were swayed by the city attorney’s advice that such a sweeping ban would put the city at odds with state law, although an outside legal analysis touted by the proponents contended there was no conflict.

“The liabilities here are very real … if we go beyond our legal power to do these kinds of things,” said Councilman Bob Blumenfield. He added that “we need to do everything we can for renters, but we need to understand what our limits are as a municipal government.”

Proponents of the ban pointed to the legal analysis by several public-interest attorneys, who contend that a more sweeping ban could still be adopted by Los Angeles, as long as it allows the city to meet an existing order by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which gives tenants the legal argument to say they are not subject to rent if their income was affected by COVID-19 outbreak.

But the analysis was met with a strong insistence Wednesday from Chief Assistant City Attorney David Michaelson that it glosses over a conflict with state laws.

“Most of the legal concerns can be overcome, if and only if the governor or the legislature suspends applicable state law,” he said.

Michaelson cast doubt on the legal analysis, saying that the attorneys who wrote it represent the tenants only, and have an interest in arguing in favor of that group.

“The city attorney’s office has great sympathies for tenants out there, but we’re just calling balls and strikes,” he said. “Our only client happens to be the mayor, the City Council and other offices and departments within the city.”

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who voted in favor of the evictions ban, sought to get traction on the issue, but met with resistance from his colleagues, after proposing that an ordinance be drawn up so that it could be further studied.

Harris-Dawson also said that the situation many residents now face was due to physical distance and stay-at-home orders public officials have issued.

When city leaders asked Angelenos, many of them burdened by rent, to stay home to help “flatten the curve … what we said to everyday people was you can’t make living,” he said.

“It’s just unconscionable to me that we are inconsistent with who we say we are,” he said. “That we are too impotent to even consider in a serious way … providing protection to that group … that it’s somebody else’s job up the road, or across the country.”

City leaders and Mayor Eric Garcetti in recent weeks have crafted some limitations on landlords’ ability to evict tenants, under which tenants could argue in court that they could not be evicted because their ability to pay rent was affected by the pandemic.

But council members Mike Bonin and David Ryu, buoyed by activists calling for a sweeping and direct ban on evictions during the public health crisis, championed the evictions measure.

The existing moratorium adopted last month would still allow eviction complaints to be filed against tenants in court, and could lead to confusion as to what tenants’ rights are, they argued.

Among the renter-related measures that did fly through Wednesday evening was one to extend the length of a freeze on rent increases for rent-controlled units to 360 days following the end of the emergency. A proposal to extend that same freeze to other rental units failed.

The council also backed a resolution urging state and federal officials to boost relief programs for both renters and landlords.