What's at stake?
The Eviction Protection Program was supposed to help tenants avoid illegal eviction - a key factor that contributes to homelessness. It's helping - but evictions are still occurring.
Six months into the City of Fresno’s eviction protection program, nearly all the 180 people accepted into the program were able to avoid going to court.
As of Feb. 4, the city had received 418 requests for help and referred 180 of those calls — about 43% — for free legal counsel through either Emerzian Shankar Legal Inc. or the Law Office of Pahoua C. Lor.
Most of the 180 referrals were resolved outside of court. As of mid-January, only 12 cases resulted in court trials. Of those cases, 10 were able to avoid a formal eviction on their record — which is often a barrier to finding new housing — according to an email from Rodney Horton, manager of Fresno’s Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization.
“The program has been extremely successful,” said Nelson Esparza, council president, who co-sponsored the eviction protection program. “Success has taken on many different forms for these folks.”
Esparza said the EPP is “one of many tools that we’re employing to help mitigate the growth of the homeless in Fresno,” and that in the long run, investments into stopping the root causes of homelessness, such as eviction, are more cost effective than housing people, once they have become homeless.
The city council approved the EPP in May after considering different proposals on how the city should protect renters against unlawful evictions which happen regularly because tenants do not have legal representation. The program launched in August.
The EPP offers mediation services, legal aid as well as representation in court for renters facing a potentially unlawful eviction. Applicants are screened through the city attorney’s office and then referred to outside law firms contracted by the city.
“It’s really a small investment,” Esparza said, “but I think it’s going a very long way.”
A breakdown of the program
Council Vice President Tyler Maxwell, also a sponsor of the EPP, said keeping an eviction off a person’s record can be crucial to securing future housing, especially with the limited rental housing supply in Fresno.
“The best way to combat homelessness is to make sure no one becomes homeless in the first place,” Maxwell said. “If it was just one person (helped), this would have been a successful program in my mind; fortunately, it is not just one person.”
At least 180 people have received free legal services through the program, as of Feb. 4.
The Fresno city attorney’s office could not provide specific information on the outcome of cases that were referred to outside counsel but did not get to court because “the resolution of those cases is information held by our outside counsel,” according to Christina Roberson, assistant city attorney, via email.
Councilman Maxwell said that in some cases, pre-court resolutions granted tenants more time before they had to move, helped them to avert formal evictions, or led to some resolution where the tenant owed less money to the landlord.
It is unknown how many people still had to relocate without having a formal eviction on their record.
Around 238 people have been turned away from the program, according to the city attorney’s office. Of those, 39 did not reside within city limits; 60 people did not have a pending eviction and were just seeking information, and 20 had already been evicted.
The city attorney’s office said that in the remaining 119 cases that were not referred, the applicants either did not respond to multiple attempts to contact them or their eviction were considered lawful.
Esparza said even in the instances where people were not referred to outside counsel, renters had their questions answered, and the city was being thorough in every case, even in cases whose evictions were deemed legal.
“We’re erring on the side of getting people help,” Esparza said.
Maxwell and Esparza said they hope to increase outreach efforts to make more people aware of the resources available to them. Maxwell said the city has put up billboards, posted public service announcements via social media, passed out fliers, sent out an EPP “toolkit” to local community based organizations and asked CBOs distributing emergency rental assistance to let people know about the EPP as well.
One man’s experience with the EPP
A man who requested anonymity, for fear of being unable to find housing in the future, said he heard about the eviction protection program while watching a local TV news station. When he received an eviction notice Sept. 15 from his landlord of two years, he called and was in touch with lawyers by Oct. 1.
The program has been able to keep him, his wife and their daughter, who has special needs, housed while they seek other housing or make a deal with their current landlord, the man said.
He and his wife rented a mobile home at a central Fresno mobile home park for the past two years. He worked odd jobs and took care of his daughter while his wife worked. Then his wife caught COVID-19 and had to stay home. The family fell behind on about three months of rent and applied to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
While the family waited for rental assistance, the man began working as a truck driver and his wife stayed home with their daughter, who, for medical reasons, had been homeschooled even prior to the pandemic.
The man said his landlord had discussed selling the mobile home to him in early 2021; however, when he and his wife could not afford the down payment, the landlord sent them a 60-day eviction notice. Since then, they have been working with Emerzian and Shankar legal services.
“They (legal assistance) said, ‘If (your landlord) gives you any more paperwork or anything, you don’t have to deal with it, just let us know and we’ll take care of it on your behalf’,” the man said. “They did a good job.”
However, he recently received a new notice from the landlord that the rental is being taken off the housing market, which is permitted, even with the city’s ongoing eviction moratorium.
The renter said he and his family are looking for other housing, but that high rent prices in Fresno and credit barriers have made it difficult.
“Even if they would have given me a mortgage where I was at,” he said, “I would have been paying less than what rent is right now.” He said he plans to reach out once again to the EPP for advice.
How to apply
The initial screening application for those seeking legal counsel can be found at fresno.gov.
Tenants can do the following to request legal assistance:
- Fill out and submit the form found at the bottom of the page on fresno.gov/cityattorney.
- Call 559-621-8400 to request to be screened for the Eviction Protection Program.
- Print out the PDF, fill it out and mail it into or drop it off at City of Fresno City Attorney’s Office, Attn: EPP, 2600 Fresno Street, Room 3076, Fresno, CA 93721
Additional information on the Eviction Protection Program can be found here.
Any tenant who receives an eviction notice can also call Central California Legal Services for free legal assistance at 800-675-8001.
Have you used the Eviction Protection Program? Has it helped? Reach out to Fresnoland Housing reporter Cassandra Garibay if you’d like to share your experience.