Kansas City Tenants Will Have Free Legal Counsel For Eviction Court
Last Thursday, the Kansas City, Missouri city council approved a Tenants Right to Counsel ordinance that will provide a lawyer to every person in eviction court who asks for one, according to the Kansas City Star. The program will begin next summer, and the city has until June 2022 to contract with legal service providers who will be hired for the program. The program will cost $2.5 million a year, which will be funded with federal money for the first two years, after which the city needs to find its own funding. According to the Star, Kansas City will be the 13th American city to roll out tenants’ right to counsel legislation.
According to the ACLU, 90 percent of landlords have legal representation in court, compared to less than 10 percent of tenants. Eviction filings in San Francisco decreased by 10 percent after tenants’ right to counsel legislation was enacted, according to the ACLU. In NYC, 85 percent of tenants who had free legal assistance were able to stay in their homes.
California AG Wins Judgment Against Landlord in Moms 4 Housing Case
California’s attorney general Rob Bonta announced last week that the state has reached a $3.5 million judgment against Wedgewood, a Los Angeles-based real estate company known for flipping properties across the country after purchasing them at foreclosure auctions. The AG found that the company had been skirting the law to quickly evict tenants after foreclosures.
Wedgewood owned a then-vacant property on Magnolia Street in West Oakland that was famously occupied by a group of houseless mothers in November 2019. The collective, Moms 4 Housing, stayed on the property for months before being forcefully evicted in January 2020. Wedgewood later sold the Magnolia Street house on which the women were squatting to Oakland Community Land Trust.
According to last week’s judgment, the company will have to pay $2.5 million in restitution to unlawfully evicted tenants along with $250,000 in civil penalties to the state and another $500,000 to tenant support and homeless prevention programs. While that money won’t go to Moms 4 Housing, who were squatting on the Magnolia Street property, their months of civil disobedience brought heightened scrutiny to Wedgewood, which an NBC Bay Area investigation subsequently found had flipped thousands of properties in 17 states across the U.S using nearly 100 shell companies.
In addition to the financial judgment, Wedgewood will have to reform its practices, including documenting when it pays tenants to leave properties so there is a legal paper trail, retraining employees to comply with the law and providing regular reports to the AG’s office on their eviction proceedings to make sure they are in compliance.
Tenants Sue New York State Over Eviction Funds
A group of tenant and legal service groups are suing New York State, asking it to open its eviction rental assistance portal and accept new applications. Governor Kathy Hochul closed the portal to new applications in November when the $2 billion fund had exceeded its funding. But tenant groups are suing for the state to accept applications anyway because the state’s eviction moratorium, which elapses in January, only covers tenants who have applied for federal rental assistance. Hochul is requesting $1 billion of funding from the federal government for the emergency rental assistance program, but any new funding would likely go to applications that have been submitted, according to City Limits.
The state also has $250 million in rent relief funds that haven’t yet been claimed by eligible landlords, according to City Limits. This is money that tenants behind on rent have already applied for and received. But landlords, who receive the money directly, have to submit separate applications. About 20,000 tenant applications haven’t been connected to a landlord, City Limits reports.
The problem appears to be bureaucratic, as tenants and landlords have to submit paperwork separately but the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance has to match them together. “We do, however, anticipate that a majority of these provisionally approved applications will ultimately result in a payment to a landlord,” an OTDA spokesman told City Limits.
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Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.