LOS ANGELES—A developer’s legal attack on the city’s emergency eviction protections—one that threatened to undermine other protective ordinances and push countless low-income tenants into homelessness —was dismissed Thursday.
The developer, Geoffrey Palmer, whose company owns more than 15,000 units in Los Angeles, filed a lawsuit in August of 2021 seeking to overturn two city ordinances that have protected tenants during the pandemic and the slow economic recovery. This week, a judge rejected his claim that the ordinances violate the 5th Amendment’s “Takings Clause,” which prohibits governments from taking private property for public use without “just compensation.”
“We are grateful that the court saw this legal challenge for what it was: a spurious attempt to unravel the emergency eviction moratorium and set dangerous legal precedent that could undermine other tenant protections,” said attorney Rachel Steinback of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County—who together with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Public Counsel represented tenant groups in defending the moratorium.
Since March of 2020, the emergency eviction protections have helped the city stave off a wave of evictions and have kept countless families from having to move into overcrowded housing and shelters, where the virus spread with ease. They have also protected the city’s dwindling stock of rent-stabilized units.
Courts across the country have rejected similar challenges to COVID-19 tenant protections.
“These challenges are meritless and meanspirited,” said Ryan Kendall, Staff Attorney in the Housing and Communities Workgroup at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “Governments have a duty to protect vulnerable residents in the midst of a global catastrophe. The Constitution does not leave tenants helpless in the face of an ongoing pandemic.”
In October of 2021, tenant groups that were instrumental to passing the ordinances asked the court for permission to join the city in defending these laws against Palmer’s attack. The groups—Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, Coalition for Economic Survival, and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action—represent thousands of tenants, most of them Black and Latinx, who have depended on the emergency eviction protections to stay housed. These tenants live in neighborhoods where rates of infection, serious illness, and death have been dramatically higher than those in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. The economic impact of the virus also hit these communities particularly hard, and the recovery has been slow.
“We know that Los Angeles faces a crippling housing and homelessness crisis that squeezes communities of color the most,” said Faizah Malik, Senior Staff Attorney in the Community Development Project at Public Counsel. “This ruling makes it crystal clear that LA’s eviction protections are legal, have been upheld by the courts multiple times, and are still needed as we grapple with the economic fallout from the pandemic.”
In yesterday’s ruling, judge Dean Pregerson dismissed the complaint, roundly rejecting Palmer’s Physical Takings arguments. However, the judge did leave the door open for Palmer to amend his complaint with new evidence to support his claims, giving him 21 days to respond. Attorneys representing Los Angeles tenants believe that given the ruling, it will be difficult for Palmer to amend his complaint in a way that could meet the high standards set by the law, as recognized by the judge’s order.
Two of the tenant groups intervened in a similar lawsuit filed last year by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. That lawsuit has so far failed to invalidate the emergency eviction protections.
Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) is a steadfast advocate for individuals, families, and communities throughout Los Angeles County. Each year NLSLA provides free assistance to more than 100,000 people through innovative projects that address the most critical needs of people living in poverty. Through a combination of individual representation, high impact litigation and public policy advocacy, NLSLA combats the immediate and long-lasting effects of poverty and expands access to health, opportunity, and justice in Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods. Visit nlsla.org
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors. Visit lafla.org
Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Founded in 1970, Public Counsel strives to achieve three main goals: protect the legal rights of disadvantaged children; represent immigrants who have been the victims of torture, persecution, domestic violence, trafficking, and other crimes; and foster economic justice by providing individuals and institutions in underserved communities with access to quality legal representation. Through a pro bono model that leverages the talents and dedication of thousands of attorney and law student volunteers, along with an in-house staff of more than 75 attorneys and social workers, Public Counsel annually assists more than 30,000 families, children, immigrants, veterans, and nonprofit organizations and addresses systemic poverty and civil rights issues through impact litigation and policy advocacy. For more information, visit publiccounsel.org