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Housing and Homelessness

LA’s Eviction Moratorium Holds As Supreme Court Refuses To Hear Landlords’ Challenge

The U.S. Supreme Court building on a sunny day. The facade's pillars are at the center of the image. Also seen is a statue of a seated man known as the Authority of Law.
The U.S. Supreme Court.
(Al Drago
Getty Images North America)
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Los Angeles landlords have failed in their legal quest to overturn the city’s eviction moratorium.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to take up an appeal from the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA). The decision effectively leaves in place the city of L.A.’s ongoing eviction protections for renters negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had hoped the makeup of the court would give us a fair hearing,” said AAGLA Executive Director Dan Yukelson. “Obviously they decided it was not an issue that they were willing to take up … [The decision] could empower the city of L.A. to continue this thing with no end in sight.”

Tenant advocates hailed the decision as a victory for local governments that passed policies to protect renters from losing their homes during a deadly and economically perilous pandemic.

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“It should provide our local leaders some measure of comfort that their emergency protections have continued to be upheld in court,” said Faizah Malik, a senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a public interest law firm that helped defend the city’s policy.

“I think this is a huge win for the city,” she said.

Contract Meddling? Or ‘Appropriate And Reasonable’ Protection?

 AAGLA first sued the city in the summer of 2020. The group representing local property owners argued the city’s eviction moratorium illegally meddled with lease contracts signed by landlords and tenants. By preventing landlords from evicting non-paying tenants, AAGLA said the city’s rules violated the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

But last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals examined the case and disagreed. The court said that given the severe financial fallout from the pandemic, the city’s eviction moratorium was an “appropriate and reasonable way to advance a significant and legitimate public purpose.”

L.A.’s protections have been among the strongest in Southern California. While protections in other parts of L.A. have now expired, the city’s rules remain in place. They will continue until local officials declare an end to the city’s “local emergency period,” and from that point tenants will have another 12 months to repay their back rent.

Rent relief efforts throughout the state have attempted to compensate landlords for missed payments during the pandemic, but those efforts have left many landlords hanging. With applications now closed, about half of applicants in L.A. County are still waiting for funding, and some small landlords with delinquent tenants have been completely shut out of the state’s rent relief program.

Other Lawsuits Continue To Move Forward

Yukelson said AAGLA will continue to pursue a separate case against L.A. County’s eviction protections, and he’ll be watching for developments in other lawsuits challenging emergency measures in L.A. and beyond.

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One case involves billionaire L.A. developer Geoffrey Palmer, who’s suing the city through his property management company, GHP Management, in an attempt to recover losses stemming from the city’s eviction moratorium.

Landlord groups in New York and Minnesota have also challenged local eviction protections.

“We'll just be monitoring all these other cases that are going on,” Yukelson said. “Eventually one is going to stick and landlords will prevail at the end of the day.”

The city’s eviction rules have made it much harder for landlords to remove non-paying tenants, but the policy has not stopped all eviction proceedings from moving forward. In many cases, L.A. tenants unable to pay rent say they’ve instead faced evictions for what they consider exaggerated charges of nuisance.

“Tenants are still vulnerable and we're seeing more eviction notices,” Malik said. “The fact that the city's protections continue to be upheld is just important in keeping these protections in place.”

What questions do you have about housing in Southern California?

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