(LOS ANGELES) (October 13, 2009)—On October 9, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP (MTO), and the National Housing Law Project (NHLP), with the help of amicus briefs filed by the City of Los Angeles, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the AARP Foundation, scored a major victory for the rights of tenants when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in Barrientos v. 1801-1825 Morton LLC. The ruling states that protections against no-cause evictions provided by the rent control laws for recipients of the Section 8 Voucher Rental Program in the City of Los Angeles are not pre-empted by federal laws or regulations. The decision, which has a national impact, provides 22 Section 8 tenants living at Morton Gardens, an apartment complex in the Los Angeles Echo Park community, protection against their landlord’s attempt to evict them.
"We are pleased that the Court upheld the ruling to protect low-income tenants in the City of Los Angeles. This decision will protect the homes of thousands of Section 8 voucher recipients in the nation," said Christian Abasto, Managing Attorney for LAFLA Eviction and Defense Units. "We could not have succeeded without the assistance of our colleagues Michael Soloff, a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP (MTO), who argued the case on March 2, 2009 and did an outstanding job; and Jim Grow, Deputy Director and nationally acclaimed subsidized housing expert with the Oakland-based National Housing Law Project (NHLP). "
Abasto brought the case to NHLP and MTO’s attention, and was an integral part of the lawsuit and appeal process. The Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) originally contacted Abasto about the case several years ago. For more than 20 years, CES has been assisting tenants to fight off evictions.
"This ruling confirms that Section 8 tenants are entitled to enjoy the same protections against arbitrary evictions as their unassisted next-door neighbors enjoy in Los Angeles and in other rent control jurisdictions, just as Congress and HUD intended," said Michael Soloff, a partner at MTO. "We hope that this ruling will lead other landlords to respect the legal rights of the tens of thousands of elderly, disabled and very low- income recipients of Section 8 living in Los Angeles and other rent control jurisdictions."
"The tenants are especially grateful that the Obama Administration and HUD Secretary Donovan echoed their position on appeal-that they are also protected by local laws," added Jim Grow, Deputy Director of NHLP. "The efforts of CES, and the unwavering support of the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti were also invaluable to this victory."
In March and June of 2006, Morton LLP served the 22 low-income housing tenants residing in Morton Gardens with notices informing them of its intention to remove the premises from the Section 8 Program, and to rent the units at market rents. In October 2006, , with counsel LAFLA and NHLP, the tenants filed a lawsuit claiming that their eviction notices violated federal law and the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance (LARSO). The attorneys sought a permanent injunction barring unlawful evictions of the tenants. The federal District Court ruled that the eviction attempts violated both federal law and LARSO, issuing an injunction and judgment that the landlord then appealed. MTO joined as co-counsel for the Ninth Circuit appeal.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s judgment. Writing for the Court, Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw found no conflict between HUD’s regulation permitting terminations of voucher tenancies for other good cause such as eviction protections of the LARSO. In reaching this conclusion, the Court relied upon the statutory language and legislative and regulatory history of the voucher program, its prior rulings on pre-emption, the U.S.’s recent amicus brief, and HUD’s recent Notice (PIH 2009-18, June 22, 2009) rejecting pre-emption. The Court also upheld the award of substantial attorneys’ fees to the tenants as prevailing parties under their leases.