HOW "SUPERMAN OF RENTERS" DANIEL BRAMZON REVOLUTIONIZED L.A.'S EVICTION-DEFENSE INDUSTRY
Department 94 is unlike any other courtroom in Los Angeles. Most courts are quiet, orderly affairs. Parties show up on time and speak when spoken to. Department 94 is different — one part game show, one part DMV on a Monday morning.
Located on the seventh floor of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown L.A., the chamber is the entry point for every single eviction case in the city.
Rents in Los Angeles have climbed by 25 percent since 2000, according to a UCLA study, while households' median incomes have actually declined. That's left L.A. among the least (if not the very least) affordable cities in which to live in the United States. According to Zillow, a person making the metro area's median income of $59,000 must pay 48 percent of his or her paycheck to cover median rent, which is currently an eye-popping $2,392.
With margins like that, it's easy to fall behind. Some 64,000 to 73,000 people are evicted in L.A. each year — a population equal to that of Redondo Beach. But before the sheriff shows up at their door with a padlock, they're called here, to “unlawful detainer” (legalese for eviction) court. Every day, more than 50 cases move through Department 94.
Each morning begins with a long monologue by Commissioner Robert Harrison — he's not a judge, but he isn't entirely un-judgelike, a kindly sort who looks a bit like Daniel Stern in a graying Abraham Lincoln beard — explaining the rules of the court.
“No live or dead insects please,” Harrison calls out with a broad smile. “Please dispose of them in the restroom.”
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