Game-Changing Pilot Program to Provide Free Attorneys to Tenants in Every Courthouse
BASTA Launches Program for Eviction Defense, At No Charge, Across LA County
Los Angeles, CA – Too often the final step in the path to homelessness is an unlawful detainer lawsuit – an eviction case. The forced removal of a person from their home is one of the most devastating events a person can experience. From 2015 to 2018, more than 147,154 households faced eviction in Los Angeles County courts, a yearly average of 49,051. When a tenant is standing before a judge in an eviction case, a lawyer standing next to that tenant is the best – and only – chance of preventing homelessness.
Today, BASTA launched an ambitious pilot program that will provide full-scope legal representation, free of charge to tenants, in every courthouse in Los Angeles County handling eviction cases. “We call this new pro bono program BASTA Universal! and upon launch, we will be the only non-profit organization in the County to offer universal, county-wide coverage to unlawful detainer defendants,” explained Ned Harris, Director of the Homelessness Prevention Project at BASTA.
BASTA, a non-profit organization with its 17 attorneys and four offices, is part of a broad-based Right-To-Counsel Coalition fighting for a codified right to counsel for tenants facing eviction in Los Angeles County. It’s an idea that is trending. In September, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed two motions to address homelessness caused by evictions. One of them created an eviction defense and prevention program that includes legal representation for eligible tenants.
The initial pilot program will be limited in the number of people receiving full-scope representation, but BASTA hopes to demonstrate that countywide eviction defense can be achieved. “We hope to show that attorney-led eviction defense without restriction as to zip code, immigration status, or any other limitation can be provided across the entire county to tenants who cannot afford an attorney,” said Daniel J. Bramzon, BASTA’s Executive Director.
“We have to do something to help prevent the social instability and other secondary effects that the eviction process causes tenants and their families,” said Greg Wesley, a former deputy public defender and Managing Attorney of the new BASTA Universal! pilot project. “BASTA’s already-existing infrastructure permits BASTA Universal! the unique opportunity to implement countywide representation to defend residents facing eviction. By protecting low-income tenants from unlawful evictions, the BASTA Universal! project will prevent homelessness.”
Founded in 2005, BASTA pioneered the strategy of bringing all eviction cases to jury trial, which is a right under California’s constitution. The strategy works. BASTA has won more jury trials in eviction cases than any other non-profit organization in the State of California. BASTA treats every client’s case with zealous, focused advocacy. It’s unique approach and universal demand for jury trials has revolutionized the entire eviction legal process.
Today, most non-profit organizations in California that represent tenants in eviction defense cases request a jury trial. After a tumultuous period of generally negating jury trials and several BASTA appeals, trial courts handling eviction cases in Los Angeles County and beyond now recognize tenants’ constitutional right to a jury trial — as well as the right of indigent clients to a waiver from depositing jury fees.
With a track record of impactful results, BASTA is proof that tenants represented by legal counsel either stay in their homes or transition with dignity to a new home, staying off the streets. “Tenants with lawyers tend to win in eviction cases,” said Mr. Bramzon. “Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe it’s just fair. And tenants winning eviction cases stops homelessness before it starts. No doubt.”
Equally important are negotiated settlements, where appropriate. BASTA has been very effective in crafting settlement agreements that allow a successful, dignified transition to a new home. In 2018, BASTA settled over 435 cases, where landlords paid nearly $2.4 million in relocation assistance and waived over $2 million in back rent. “These types of results foster a dignified transition from a bad situation in eviction court to a fresh start in a new home – avoiding homelessness,” said Mr. Bramzon.