Whether you want to pick up the latest page-turner or watch the 2018 Academy Awards nominees for best picture, there are plenty of good reasons to head to your neighborhood library.

Now there’s one more: Understanding your rights as a tenant.

Los Angeles Public Library is partnering with BASTA to give renters one-on-one help with housing issues.

Starting Thursday, February 8, BASTA housing experts will offer a series of free, two-hour clinics on housing and tenant rights at four library branches. On the second Thursday of each month, bilingual workshops will be held at the Central Library, Pacoima and Wilmington branches. Starting February 14, they will be held at the Junipero Serra branch in South L.A. on the second Wednesday of each month.

Knowing what to do when served with a three-day notice to pay rent or an eviction—also known as an unlawful detainer—can mean the difference between keeping your home or looking for a couch to surf, said BASTA attorney Magda Madrigal.

“By being informed, knowing your rights and knowing which steps to take, you have a better chance of prevailing in an eviction, getting repairs made, or getting the landlord to back off.”

Working with tenants on a daily basis, Madrigal often sits across from people who don’t know what to do, or when. Sometimes she has to give them hard news—sheriffs can come to lock them out as soon tomorrow.

“In those cases, I have to tell them how to pack up their belongings,” Madrigal said.

While attorneys can often be brought in to handle legal proceedings, it’s often up to renters themselves to protect their housing rights.

“They might ask a landlord verbally to make repairs, and when the landlord doesn’t make them, they withhold rent. And then they end up in eviction. I wish I could have talked to those tenants one month ahead and said ‘no, no, no—what you do is put it in writing, contact the appropriate government agencies, and then withhold your rent,’ ” Madrigal said.

With the new informational sessions, tenants can get information on a variety of topics, such rent control, what to do when a landlord refuses to make repairs, or how to document your landlord-tenant relationship to protect your rights.

L.A. Public Library is hosting the clinics as part of its New Americans Initiative, originally launched in 2012 as Your Path to Citizenship, to empower the city’s most vulnerable residents to do things like obtain citizenship, manage finances or start a business. L.A. is home to immigrants from more than 140 countries. The initiative made the library’s 73 locations go-to places for 700,000 legal permanent residents looking for resources and other information.

Madeleine Idelfonso, managing librarian of the library’s Department of Lifelong Learning, said libraries are an easy destination for people who might not know where else to find help.

“Libraries welcome everyone and we always have,” Idelfonso said. “And that includes people who are in more vulnerable places in their lives, whether it’s someone who doesn’t have legal immigration status, left a difficult situation in their home, or people who are just looking for a way to begin their lives again.”

Because of L.A.’s ongoing housing crisis, many ask questions about their rights as tenants, Idelfonso said. And while librarians are generally a knowledgeable bunch, they understand when a topic is beyond their expertise.

“We’re information specialists. We want to empower people to make choices with the advice of people who really know what they are talking about,” Idelfonso said.

In the end, the initiative is all about empowering people to make the best decisions for their lives in a friendly, comfortable setting—somewhere they might be headed anyway to borrow books or other media.

“It minimizes a lot of fears,” Idelfonso said. “That’s the way we’re hoping people interact with it.”

Appointments for the Housing/Tenant Rights clinics can be made via the library website.

Published by David Colgan