On a hot September afternoon in 2015, the Solano family (not their real name) was sitting at 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. The new landlord said that he was tripling their rent and they had to move.
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 concerned that they might become homeless. Jesus 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 Solano family lived in a rent stabilized apartment. The owner was not 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 increasing rents, higher-than-ever move in fees, and housing inventory at an all time low, $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 contacted Inner City Law Center. Staff Attorney 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, the case finally went before a jury. According to Jesus,“Gil was so kind, compassionate and understanding. He was quiet at first, but when he spoke in court, we knew we had nothing to worry about. He was pure genius.” Gil 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. “We are so grateful to Gil and Inner City Law Center,” said Jesus. “When my family heard the news, we wanted to lift Gil on our shoulders and carry him out of the courtroom. We were overjoyed.” As Jesus’ grandmother said, “On behalf of the whole family, thank you. 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. When tenants have legal representation, their chances of keeping their homes increase dramatically. If you or someone you know is facing eviction, seek assistance. If your eviction paperwork comes from the Stanley Mosk Courthouse downtown then visit the Eviction Assistance Center at 111 N. Hill Street, Room 115 between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm Monday through Thursday or between 9:00 am and 12:00 pm on Friday. If your paperwork comes from any other Courthouse in the County, visit the Eviction Defense Network at 1930 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 208 between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm Monday through Friday or between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm on Saturday.