Legal Aid Foundation Advocates for Tenant Rights
By edhat staff
The Legal Aid Foundation is offering free services and advice to local renters who fear eviction during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The non-profit law firm was established in 1959 and provides civil legal services to low-income and other vulnerable residents in order to ensure equal access to justice. Their services include the provision of legal information and advice, assistance with the preparation of legal documents, and representation in court proceedings. Since the COVID-19 crisis, they've been assisting residents with a variety of housing-related questions.
Executive Director Jennifer Smith spoke during the Santa Barbara County COVID-19 press conference on Tuesday providing answers to commonly asked questions from tenants.
Smith confirmed the foundation is fully operational with staff members working remotely. They can currently advise tenants who are at risk of eviction; assist survivors of intimate partner violence, elder abuse, and sexual assault with restraining orders, custody orders, and related services; and aid with foreclosure prevention for homeowners concerned about making mortgage payments.
The majority of questions the Legal Aid Foundation has been hearing relate to evictions. Smith confirmed residential evictions should not be taking place without a court order and currently, California courts have suspended almost all evictions during this pandemic. Smith stated if a landlord attempts to lock a tenant out of their home, it is illegal. If a tenant receives an eviction notice or related paperwork, they are encouraged to seek legal counsel right away.
Smith warned that even though emergency protections have been issued by the state and local governments, in many cases, the protection is not automatic. For tenants who are impacted by COVID-19 such as losing a job or having their hours cut and are having trouble paying their rent, they must be able to provide proof of the loss and are required to contact the landlord in writing.
Additionally, Smith warned about an increase in scams at this time. She urged everyone to be skeptical about institutions or people asking for information, instead initiate contact with a trusted source for assistance.
The Legal Aid Foundation isn't the only place for free legal advice during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Santa Barbara County Superior Court Office of the Family Law Facilitator is also offering remote help.
For anyone who is self-representing themselves with child support, spousal support, health insurance, custody/visitation, divorce, or parentage, the Family Law Facilitator can help free of charge. The program has a licensed attorney that can assist either or both sides in a case. However, the attorney does not represent any specific person so communication is not legally confidential.
The Legal Aid Foundation has offices in Lompoc, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara. Anyone with questions is encouraged to call the office in their area. Learn more by visiting lafsbc.org.
The Family Law Facilitator can be reached at 805-882-4660 or [email protected] All services from both organizations are provided in Spanish as well.