Tenants in LA Are Learning How to Fight an Eviction and Win

Post-pandemic, thousands of landlords are trying to evict their tenants. But one attorney is on a mission to help them.

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What to Know

  • Tenant advocates say evictions will reach an all-time high
  • One group is teaching tenants how to defend themselves against eviction in court
  • They say success rate is high

Erika Zurflueh’s landlord recently tried to evict her. 

The trouble began last year, when Zurflueh fell behind on rent after her work dried up. 

“It’s my obligation to pay rent every month. And I knew I’d eventually be able to pay it; it was just a difficult time,” she said. 

Zurflueh is paying rent again. And according to LA's COVID-19 protection laws, she has until next March to pay any back rent.

So to try and evict Zurflueh, her landlord used a different tactic: he demanded a new security deposit – $10,000 – more than ten times her current deposit. 

“It was definitely stressful,” she said. 

Zurflueh turned to the nonprofit group Eviction Defense Network for help. Attorney Elena Popp said the security deposit that Zurflueh’s landlord demanded is illegal. 

But Popp can’t represent every tenant who’s facing eviction right now, because she said there are too many. Instead, she hosts free webinars three times a week and teaches tenants how to defend themselves in court. She calls it “eviction defense boot camp.”

“What I say to students is this is Navy SEALs training. Don’t expect it to be fun and don’t expect me to be nice. It’s very, very tough. A 'tough love' kind of training. That’s why I think it’s so successful,” Popp said. 

Zurflueh attended several of Popp’s webinars. When it was time to go to court, she was ready. 

“Before, I would have been terrified to go to court, but Elena just gets you so confident,” she said.

Zurflueh selected the jury and conducted opening statements all on her own. At the last minute, Popp stepped in as her lawyer, and the landlord dismissed the case. 

“I was like ‘Woah, all this hard work paid off. This is incredible,’” Zurflueh said.

Popp said most tenants who attend her webinars have similar success stories. 

“We have stepped in to a new case every day since Erika's case. And we have resolved each of those favorably either via trial, or trial and then settlement, or settlement,” she said.

Popp expects evictions to hit an all-time high now that pandemic protections have ended. 

“I anticipate that there will be an indefinite need for this program because I don’t think we’ll ever have enough lawyers to meet 100% of the need,” she said.

Zurflueh hopes her landlord is done trying to evict her. But if not, she believes the training from Popp’s program would help her win again. 

“I’m ready,” she said.

If you receive an eviction notice, Popp recommends:

  • Contact Stay Housed L.A. and you’ll be connected to a legal service program.
  • Watch videos and attend webinars at the Eviction Defense Network. 
  • Save your money while you’re fighting the eviction and not paying rent, because you’ll eventually have to pay it.
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