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Here’s What LA Tenants Won and Lost This Winter

Tenants will get expanded just-cause protections, which limit the number of valid reasons for evictions. But massive increases in evictions are expected to continue as LA revokes emergency protections.

Housing rights activists holding signs outside of of city hall
Keep LA Housed Coalition press conference outside city hall calling for expanded tenant protections. (Sarah Michelson)

If you’re confused about the “eviction moratorium” for LA tenants ending, you’re not alone.

Tenants and advocates fighting displacement face a patchwork of protections, some temporary and some permanent, that vary based on factors that include the size and age of a building, length of tenancy, and whether a home is based in the city of Los Angeles, a city in Los Angeles County, or unincorporated LA County.

Find Out Whether Your Home Is Protected by LARSO

Use this site to find out whether your home is protected by LARSO (the Rent Stabilization Ordinance) or AB 1482, also called the Tenant Protection Act. Enter your address, then look under “Housing.”

While there was never a true eviction moratorium — i.e., neither policy banning all evictions nor a month that passed with zero evictions — evictions did drop dramatically during the pandemic, and the increase in homelessness slowed due to temporary emergency protections. The city is now revoking these, while adding some smaller permanent protections.

Here’s an overview of what Los Angeles tenants have won and lost this winter.

Graph tracking evictions in LA County between 2005 and 2022
Evictions across LA County between 2005 and 2022. (Sarah Michelson)

What Tenants Won

February 1: Expanded Just Cause

The city of Los Angeles expanded just-cause protections to all tenants who have lived in their homes for at least six months.

That means that for nearly all tenants, there are limited legitimate reasons for eviction. For evictions where the tenant is not at fault (like the landlord plans to move in or claims they will take the property off the market), the landlord is required to pay relocation assistance.

The majority of tenants in Los Angeles already have these protections because their homes are protected by either LARSO or AB 1482. But as of February 1, about 400,000 homes are covered by just cause for the first time. These homes include subsidized housing, elder care facilities, and single-family homes with non-corporate owners.

The coalition Keep LA Housed celebrated the expansion as a major win for tenants, saying it will protect over 600,000 people from eviction without a stated reason.

When reached for comment, landlord advocates complained that it’s complicated and expensive for landlords to prove they have valid reasons to evict. The ordinance will make it harder for landlords to circumvent that process and evict “problem tenants,” according to Daniel Yukelson of the Apartment Association of Los Angeles.

What is a problem tenant? Yukelson said he was referring to tenants who disturb their neighbors or damage the property. But tenant advocates say just cause could be a meaningful barrier to landlords discriminating against tenants based on factors like race, disability, or organizing activity.

Even with just cause, tenant organizers say they’re often targeted by landlords, who will find any excuse to evict a tenant they don’t like. But at least just cause “allows tenants to engage with their eviction by challenging it,” said Sasha Harnden of the Inner City Law Center (ICLC).

Threshold for Eviction, Relocation Fees for Economic Displacement

Los Angeles “Fair Market Rent”

Studio: $1534

One bedroom: $1747

Two bedrooms: $2222

Three bedrooms: $2888

Four bedrooms: $3170

The city has further limited landlords’ ability to evict in two ways.

Being even a penny short on rent can be legitimate grounds for eviction. But starting in March, landlords are supposed to wait until a tenant owes one month’s “fair market rent” before filing for eviction.

Landlords may raise rent as much as they wish on homes unprotected by LARSO, AB 1482, or price-gouging laws. But soon landlords will be required to pay relocation assistance — three months’ fair market rent plus $1411 — to tenants displaced by rent increases of 10% or more.

What Tenants Lost

April 1: Tenants Lose Protection from No-Fault Evictions and Evictions for Falling Behind on Rent

What to Do When COVID Protections End on April 1

Lower-income LA tenants who cannot pay rent because of COVID should send their landlords this letter to protect them from eviction for unpaid rent. On April 1, that protection is set to end.

Early in the pandemic, with so many losing jobs and losing loved ones to COVID, the city passed protections allowing tenants to temporarily defer rent and stay in their homes. The city also paused most no-fault evictions.

Rent was not canceled, and not all evictions were canceled, but tenants had a new defense against eviction in court — if they or their lawyer knew how to use it. Most tenants did not have lawyers or the capacity to maneuver the bureaucracy, so evictions continued despite the protections. But landlords were also deterred from filing evictions, and evictions decreased dramatically.

The mayor and the LA City Council voted to end the state of emergency on January 31 and to revoke these emergency protections.

However, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to extend the county’s similar tenant protections (which apply only to lower-income tenants) for an additional two months. County protections cover any city in the county with weaker protections, so it will apply to the city of Los Angeles.

This means that low-income tenants in LA have two more months of these protections. If they cannot pay rent for COVID-related reasons, they should send their landlord this letter. Starting on April 1, it will be much easier for landlords to evict tenants for not paying their rent, and many no-fault evictions can resume. And starting next summer, deferred rent will be due.

Next Summer and Winter: Back Rent Due

Most people will never recover what they lost to COVID — loved ones, jobs, plans — but tenants are expected to repay their rents within the next year.

Deadlines for Back Rent

Rent debt accrued between 3/1/2020 and 9/30/2021 is due 8/1/2023.

Rent debt accrued between 10/1/23 and 1/31/23 is due 3/1/24.

Rental debt looms over hundreds of thousands of LA tenants and is particularly threatening for those who have lived in their homes for many years.

Veronica lives with her 80-year-old mother, teenage daughter, and rescue dog in a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles near the border of Culver City. She said for 30 years she never had a problem paying her rent, but she recently fell into around $7,000 of rental debt due to a series of catastrophes that began with the pandemic. [Veronica asked that we not use her last name due to fear of retaliation.]

First she lost her job at a daycare center when the center closed because of the pandemic, and their promise to rehire her never materialized. Then her mother, her daughter, and Veronica herself each developed major medical issues. Veronica is careful not to catch COVID — because of both her chronic respiratory problems and her mother’s age and recent bouts with pneumonia — but she finds time to clean houses between driving her mother to dialysis three times a week and taking her daughter to therapy appointments. Her daughter recently told her mother she’d been seriously abused as a child, and both are now trying to work through post-traumatic stress disorder.

Veronica said she just wants time to repay her rent, and that if her family is evicted for it, “we have no place to go.” Her current rent is about $1,000 per month, far below any available nearby one-bedroom apartments.

Like most tenants in Los Angeles, Veronica lives in a home covered by LARSO, meaning that — in normal years — landlords may only raise rent by 3–8%, depending on inflation. But if they evict long-term tenants, they can charge new tenants any amount they want. 

There used to be 10 Latine households in Veronica’s building, but she said the landlord has recently found excuses to evict nine of them and replace them with white tenants. The new tenants likely pay something close to market rent, more than 160% higher than Veronica’s current rent. Veronica said the landlord has been harassing her to move out by leaving repairs half-done, taking away her laundry key, and even once locking her and her daughter out of their home for hours in the cold.

Veronica is scared of what will happen when the temporary protections go away but is doing her best to manage day by day. “I have to take care of myself so I can take care of my mom and my daughter,” she said. Her health issues include spinal arthritis and chronic respiratory issues, but she said, “When I pet my dog it’s like the illnesses have gone away.”

February 1, 2024: Easier to Evict Tenants with Newer Pets and Occupants

Many families like Veronica’s adopted pets during the pandemic to deal with stress or because the pets’ previous owners had died. Angelenos also moved in with friends or family members when they lost jobs or loved ones. The city temporarily restricted landlords from evicting tenants based on unauthorized pets or occupants, and that protection is set to be revoked February 1, 2024, unless pets and additional tenants win a further extension or permanent protections.

February 1, 2024: LARSO Rent Increases Allowed

Landlords are currently prohibited from raising rents at all for tenants in homes covered by LARSO. This rent freeze is set to end February 1, 2024, after which rent may be raised 3–8% per year, depending on inflation. For homes covered by AB 1482, landlords may continue to raise rents 5–10% per year, depending on inflation.

For all other homes, there are no restrictions on rent increases. A statewide anti-price-gouging law prevents rent increases above 10% during a state of emergency. While the state’s COVID state of emergency is set to end at the end of February, the state of emergency declared for Tropical Storm Kay lasts it until March 15, 2023. Emergencies abound in California, so that restriction is likely to return.

Looking Ahead: What Is to Be Done?

In Los Angeles County, about 226,00 households, which include almost 250,000 children, are behind on rent. About 87% of those tenants are people of color.

In addition to a “mountain of debt” — around $849 million in LA County — Sasha Harnden of the ICLC said many tenants carry “shadow debt,” meaning they took out loans or used credit cards to pay rent, “because tenants know their most important payment is the rent.”

The government could elect to seize the debt through eminent domain, Harnden said, pay landlords “pennies on the dollar” for it, and forgive it. (Landlord advocates agree that they expect to recover very little of that debt.) The idea is similar to projects like RIP Medical Debt, in which individuals purchase — for pennies on the dollar — and then forgive strangers’ medical debt. 

While debt feels like an insurmountable burden, tenant lawyers say landlords are often quick to forgive the debt as part of a deal to evict their tenants. The real danger to tenants is the fear of eviction.

Vacancy Control

Because of rent stabilization, long-term residents of Los Angeles typically pay far lower rent than their neighbors and are particularly vulnerable to homelessness — as they are unlikely to afford housing anywhere else.

While most LA homes have limits on rent increases, there is no “vacancy control,” meaning that there are no limits on how much a landlord can charge a new tenant after evicting an old one. As a result, “long-term tenants in rent-stabilized homes have a target on their backs,” said Stephano Medina, a tenant attorney with the Eviction Defense Network. 

Vacancy control is currently illegal in California under a state bill called Costa-Hawkins. This month advocates began another attempt to put the repeal of Costa-Hawkins on the ballot, which could free cities to choose to enact vacancy control.

Right to Counsel

“The only way anyone has benefited from any of these protections is either they have an attorney or they showed up on their court date and knew exactly what to say,” Medina said.

Housing rights activists demanding the right to counsel for tenants outside of of city hall
Keep LA Housed Coalition members demanding the right to counsel for tenants outside city hall. (Sarah Michelson)

When a landlord files an eviction, the tenant has five business days to complete a complex legal document called an ”answer,” which requests that a jury trial consider the merits of the eviction. If the tenant does not file an answer — and 40% don’t — they find themselves with a default judgment, meaning an eviction on their record and sheriffs likely physically removing them from their homes, regardless of the legitimacy of the landlord’s reasons for evicting.

Tenant advocates have developed an imperfect tool to allow tenants to file their own answers, without the assistance of an attorney. But that’s only the first step in a tenant’s legal case.

In court, about 90% of landlords have lawyers and about 95% of tenants do not, so the balance of power is again stacked against tenants.

The Keep LA Housed coalition says the government should guarantee an attorney for tenants facing eviction. That codified right to counsel is high on their list of demands in a LA Tenant Bill of Rights they say the county should pass to protect tenants.

Invest in Imagination

Enacting any of these solutions — debt cancellation, vacancy control, a right to counsel, and the whole tenant bill of rights — would require a lot of organizing, and a shift in values.

In Cypress Park, Elsa Hernandez shares a one-bedroom apartment with her seriously ill husband and two special-needs children. Her husband lost his job at a body shop after his bout with COVID spiraled into a number of grave physical and mental ailments. The family fell around $6,000 behind in rent, and Hernandez has not found time for paid work between caring for him and for their children’s ongoing therapeutic needs. “They are lucky to have me fight for them,” she said. “I want them to grow up like normal kids.”

Recently a city councilmember’s representative visited her home, and Hernandez’s children thought the man was with the landlord and had come to evict them. Instead, the district rep was there to feature her in a video about expanded tenant protections — none of which will protect her from eviction based on her unpaid rent.

Hernandez’s 13-year-old disabled son has offered to sell his drawings to help her pay off the debt. She assured him she would find another way. She still buys her children art supplies when she goes to Target for essentials. “I want to invest in their imagination,” she said. 

For support with tenant issues, reach out to your local chapter of the Los Angeles Tenants Union and check out the free legal workshops from Stay Housed LA.