Founded in 1980 on the basic principle that every person should always be treated with dignity and respect, Inner City Law Center quickly established itself as a fighter for justice and was dubbed by an early supporter as “the little Skid Row castle in the sky,” as the only provider of legal services located on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. The organization is recognized for its expertise in housing issues, veterans benefits and homelessness prevention.
On a hot September afternoon in 2015, the Solano family (not their real name) was at their Los Angeles home when they received a knock on their door. The unfamiliar visitor introduced himself as the new owner of the building and said, “How much time do you need to move out?” Stunned, the family inquired why they had to move, as they were model tenants who had faithfully paid rent for 26 years. In fact, they attempted to pay September’s rent via electronic transfer, just as they had for many years. But this month, with no prior notice, the transfer did not go through. The Solano family attempted to contact their landlord but were consistently met with unreturned phone calls and unanswered emails.
With the new landlord standing on their doorstep, saying that he was tripling their rent and they had to move, the Solanos were concerned. According to Jesus Solano, who grew up in the apartment and will attend San Francisco State University in the fall, his family was shocked that they might lose their home and terrified they might become homeless. Jesus Solano was particularly concerned about his elderly, disabled grandmother, “Her health is not very good, and the stress of not knowing where she and our family would live took a toll on her, physically and emotionally.”
The owner was not legally allowed to triple the rent. But that did not dissuade him from filing an eviction action and pushing to get the family out. In a thinly veiled threat, the new owner offered them $1,500 to vacate, saying, “I’d rather give you the money than give it to my lawyer.” Known as “cash for keys,” this agreement, while not illegal, normally ends badly for the tenant. With the state of rental market, $1,500 would have done little to help the Solano family. “We would’ve been homeless,” said Jesus’ mom.
Thankfully, instead of moving out, the Solanos did some research and contacted Inner City Law Center Law Center, a nonprofit located on Skid Row. Inner City Law Center is used to dealing with these types of evictions. Executive Director Adam Murray said, “We Routinely see landlords threatening to evict tenants who complain about slum conditions, families in danger of losing the homes where they have lived for decades because a single rent payment was late, and foreclosing banks illegally evicting tenants.” Gilberto Vera met with the Solanos, gathered facts, filed the appropriate papers, and prepared for their day in court. The landlord did not make the process easy, delaying the case for three months and engaging in what the Solanos described as “intimidation and bullying.” On February 8 2016, the case finally went before a jury. Inner City Law Center presented evidence to establish that the rental increase was illegal, that the Solanos were able and willing to continue paying the proper rent, and that the landlord did not provide the proper eviction notices.
After a brief deliberation, the jury returned with a 10-2 verdict in favor of the Solano family. After the verdict, Jesus’ grandmother said, “We are peaceful now. We can sleep at night. The storm is over and now we have blue skies and rainbows.”
The Solano’s eviction saga ended well; they will remain in their home of 26 years. But most of the more than 70,000 evictions filed in LA County do not have such a happy ending. The vast majority of tenants facing eviction are not represented by an attorney. Inner City Law Center continues to help families like the Solanos and work toward long-term, positive, and meaningful change. The staff of 40, including 22 attorneys and over 400 volunteers, fights for justice for low-income tenants, working poor families, immigrants, people who are living with HIV/AIDS or are disabled and veterans. To find out more about Inner City Law Center’s meaningful work, visit their website or contact them at Info@innercitylaw.org.
Organizations mentioned/involved: Inner City Law Center (ICLC)