Giving foster youth legal know-how to succeed

Life as an independent adult can be tough in cities like Los Angeles, where three minimum wage jobs aren’t enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

For those coming out of foster care, it’s an even more uphill battle. Extraordinary Families works to level the playing field with advocacy and direct services.

On April 10, BASTA attorney Magda Madrigal joined legal experts Paul Freese and Jessica Kastner at the nonprofit organization’s Koreatown facility, where they spoke with current and former foster youth about housing, criminal and employment law — with a focus on scenarios common to everyday life.

Sarah Boone, Extraordinary Families CEO, said foster youth face obstacles above and beyond what most people encounter.

“By virtue of being in foster care, often they have been victims of abuse and neglect,” Boone said. “It’s not uncommon for a young adult to have been in 10 or 20 different foster or group homes — and more schools than they can count.”

Events like Tuesday’s presentation — along with things like mental and physical health care, education and job training — give them the skills they need to overcome past traumas and thrive, she said.

When it comes to having a place to live, the youth must deal with L.A.’s notorious lack of affordable housing. Getting evicted leads to dire consequences, such as homelessness or couch surfing. The best way to solve such problems is to keep them from happening in the first place, Boone said.

That’s where a lawyer can help.

BASTA attorney Magda Madrigal reviewed the various types of legal notices tenants get from landlords, from 3-day notices to pay rent to unlawful detainers (evictions). She underscored the pitfalls of dealing with self-interested or unscrupulous landlords.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” she said. “A lot of fear, a lot of intimidation, a lot of misconceptions.”

Madrigal noted that California and its cities have enacted legal protections such as rent control to protect tenants. She outlined steps people can take to protect their rights, including reporting problems to government agencies and seeking legal assistance from nonprofits. Above all, she said, it’s important to get advice when dealing with unfair practices or getting served with a legal notice.

Paul Freese, formerly of Public Counsel and Neighborhood Legal Services, spoke about what to do in situations with criminal law implications. When they see police misconduct, he said, it’s best to not interfere, but to record the incident with a smartphone or bear witness. With something as simple a parking ticket, he advised being proactive, and related a personal story about a time a police officer dropped a traffic ticket simply he contested it in person.

“Never underestimate the human factor,” Freese said. “As with anything in life, just showing up is the first step toward being successful and having your voice heard.” It also pays to be nice, he added. “If you are nasty to them, they will do everything they can to get you convicted.”

Jessica Kastner of Equity Law Advocates, Inc., stressed the importance of asking for help as soon as possible when facing potential discrimination at the workplace.

“If something feels wrong to you, reach out to somebody who knows that area of law, and who can help you before it becomes a huge problem,” she said.

A helping hand and the confidence to seek it out are a recipe for success, says Sarah Boone. Past trauma can act as a psychological barrier to doing that, so it’s important to make things convenient.

“The perfect world for our clientele would be that society would take good enough care of our kids in the first place, but I can’t wave a magic wand and make that happen,” said Boone. “Short of that, we can provide that trauma-informed care, that support, that understanding that they need to mitigate self-defeating thoughts.”

Image: Foster youth attend an educational session at UCLA . | Photo via




With evictions, don’t be afraid – but don’t go it alone

by Kevin Hermansen, Esq.

People get eviction notices all the time for a variety of reasons. If you get one, don’t worry — but understand that you’re in a complex legal situation and take the right steps to fight back.

Although it might feel like it, evictions are not always the tenant’s fault. They often arise because of unlawful behavior by landlords or property owners.

For example, landlords may decide they don’t want to repair their rental units. When tenants object and refuse to pay for their damaged or substandard housing, they get served evictions. Another scenario plays out in jurisdictions that have rent control ordinances. The longest-residing tenants of buildings cost landlords thousands of dollars each year — evicting them means new tenants can be brought in and charged more. And sometimes conflicts are personal: unprofessional landlords sometimes hold grudges, and they may try to get tenants out by claiming minor or technical lease violations.

Whatever the case may be, tenants have legal rights and options for representation. Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t take advantage of these rights. It can be a shock finding out your home is at risk — and that there’s a limited time to file a written response and get your day in court.

Unlike small claims cases, evictions — known as “unlawful detainers” in legalese — are complicated civil actions that require parties to understand the rules of civil procedure and evidence. Simply filing a written response and waiting for trial sets cases up for failure. In between the response and trial is the critical discovery period, in which parties can compel the other side to answer questions and produce documents under oath to be used as evidence at trial. Parties can also request depositions, requiring their opponents to come to an office to answer questions for up to seven hours.

Doing any of this effectively requires an attorney with the necessary skill and experience to draft questions, hold depositions and compel the other side to answer or appear if they refuse. A lot of it is technical. Failure to use proper formatting, paper or wording can cause a tenant to lose before the case ever makes it to trial.
There’s an additional problem with the file-and-wait approach. Even if a tenant gets through discovery and makes it to trial, they are required to conduct that trial with the same level of expertise as an attorney. This means photographs, letters, e-mails and text messages could be excluded from evidence if the right words are not used, or if they are not submitted in the proper format.

In California, tenants facing eviction have a right to a jury trial. However, when they fail to properly request one, cases are often decided by judges instead. This means the cases are decided by people who have seen and heard it all before. They are unlikely to be as sympathetic as juries. Some judges are property owners or landlords themselves. And even those who are well-meaning can’t simply do what’s fair or right — they are bound by established law, including rules of civil procedure and admissible evidence. As a result, one side wins and the other side loses — there is no in-between.

From my experience, In cases where a tenant does not have an attorney, the judge is more likely to believe a landlord who does. (It’s similar to traffic court, where it’s almost impossible to win against a police officer who has been there many times more than a person getting the ticket.)

Having a lawyer makes all the difference. Lawyers can use the discovery period effectively to get answers and documents. Lawyers are able to demand and prepare for jury trials. With a jury trial, a case will no longer decided by a potentially unsympathetic judge. It will be decided by other members of the tenant’s community, at least some of whom are likely to be tenants themselves. Sometimes, the mere possibility that a case will go to a jury causes landlords to dismiss cases or settle out of court.

Almost every landlord understands how important it is to have attorneys to handle these complex cases. So should tenants. Organizations like BASTA regularly handle these cases and win. We know the system, law and procedures that must be used in court. For as little as $800, you can let experts lead the way. (Your landlord can even be forced to pay those fees if they’re found to be in the wrong.) In a city where median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is over $1,700 per month, that’s a relatively small amount to invest. And you may end up getting a settlement worth thousands more.

Perhaps just as importantly, having legal representation means you don’t have to deal with the stress of an eviction yourself. Eviction defense lawyers understand how tough it is to face a powerful land owner with your home at stake, and we’re ready to help. Don’t go it alone.

Kevin Hermansen is an attorney with BASTA. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BASTA, the courts or any government agency.


Adding one short sentence to the state law can save 50,000 from homelessness – really

BASTA founder Daniel Bramzon in the Sacramento Bee:

“Local governments need assistance from the private sector to enforce tenant rights. Municipalities have passed laws to encourage such enforcement by allowing attorneys to be paid when they successfully help tenants who could not otherwise afford legal services. Such enforcement costs taxpayers and local governments nothing – but tragically, this important and cost-effective private option is going away.”

“[T]enants with lawyers tend to win in eviction cases. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe it’s just fair. And tenants winning eviction cases stops homelessness before it starts. No doubt.”

Read the full story.

Five things your landlord doesn’t want you to know

Housing law can be complicated, but there are ways to protect the place you live even if you’re not an expert.

Whether landlords own one property or 1,000, chances are good they’re willing to do everything in in their power to protect their investment. They’ve probably had to do so before — maybe on multiple occasions — so they know how to use the legal system to their advantage when they want to evict a tenant or neglect their responsibilities as a residential property owner. Their intentions might not be nefarious, but sometimes they are, especially when getting rid of a tenant means they’ll make more money off of someone else.

Luckily, more than half of Los Angeles residents and 37 percent of people living in the state of California rent their homes. Elected officials, courts and government agencies have created numerous laws and protections to ensure those tens of millions of people are treated fairly.

By taking a few precautions, understanding your rights and knowing what to do if you need to go to court, you can level the playing field and safeguard your family’s home.

  1. Low cost legal help is available. If your family is anything like the 80 percent of Americans who live paycheck-to-paycheck, the idea of paying for legal representation can seem daunting, even impossible. Luckily, nonprofit groups like BASTA can help without breaking the bank—often for less than $1,000. If this still seems steep, keep in mind how much you’d spend on a new apartment, movers and a security deposit. And if you win, there’s a good chance you’ll recover the investment and more.
  2. Rent control is highly technical. Your landlord may already know this (that’s why he got the lawyer), but many, if not most, landlords make mistakes that can mean you’ll win your case without ever going to trial. It’s everyone’s right to take advantage of the law to its fullest. A good attorney on either side of a case will know these technicalities and use them assertively to win.
  3. Each $100 of rent roll — the monthly income from a rental unit — equals about $15,000 in building value. That means that even if your unit rents at just $200 per month below the current market value, your tenancy itself is worth $30,000. That’s the value of what you’re saving by living there. Who wouldn’t want to save $30,000 or at least make the landlord pay you part of it for you to leave?
  4. You have a right to a jury trial in California eviction cases. Filling out an additional fee waiver and demanding jury trials with your answer means up to 12 people like you will decide your case — not a judge who makes $200,000 a year and thinks apartments are something parents pay for while their kids are in law school, until they have the money to buy a house of their own.
  5. It is your landlord’s responsibility to maintain your unit in decent conditions. If you have bad conditions in your unit, you probably do not owe all the rent the landlord is demanding. You wouldn’t pay full value for a car with a broken window, would you? Why should you be forced to pay full value for an apartment with problems?

Ned Harris is an attorney with BASTA. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BASTA, the courts or any government agency

BASTA joins L.A. Public Library to give one-on-one advice on tenant rights

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.

New York Defends Tenants!

New York may be the first city to provide lawyers for  all income qualified tenants being evicted.  Wow.  Let’s hope this kind of thinking come to Los Angeles.

Read More

Rent Control Evictions Increasing in Los Angeles

“In a booming real estate market, rental properties are often converted to condominiums or upscale rental buildings by developers seeking a profit. Under city law, property owners must provide protections for tenants in rent-stabilized units, giving them ample time to move out and offering compensation.  A total of 6,803 complaints were filed by tenants living in rent-controlled properties last year, compared with 5,049 in 2011.”

Read the whole article:

BASTA Is Growing!

Rent control evictions are skyrocketing across Los Angeles bringing more people than ever to BASTA for our full range of tenant services.  Our current offices at 2500 Wilshire can no longer accommodate our growth so we’ll be moving down the street to much larger facilities to be able to help even more of the community.

We’re excited to announce that today BASTA retained Jerome Chang and CODAspaces to design and furnish our new offices.  We hope to move in by the end of the year… stay tuned!

Order Approving Class Action Settlement for BASTA

The plaintiff tenant class received final approval from the Court for their $1.5 million negotiated settlement of damages allegedly sustained after being made to endure substandard housing conditions and illegal rent increases by their landlords at their residential rental property. The net settlement proceeds (after fees, costs and administrative expenses) of approximately $1 million dollars will be divided among the class members according to a formula based mainly on each class members’ length of tenancy at the subject property. The proceeds of any uncashed settlement checks will go to benefit Esperanza Community Housing Corp, a nonprofit organization offering support to low-income families and promoting affordable housing to low-income Latino tenants.