Fresno · Highlight

Chavez counters social justice groups, pitches eviction mediation program

Fresno City Council will consider a new program that is designed to protect tenants from unlawful evictions after California’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium ends in June.

Council President Luis Chavez is proposing the rental mediation program on Thursday, which will officially be known as Keep Fresno Housed. 

“Too often, Fresnans unfamiliar with housing laws have faced legally questionable eviction efforts by landlords,” said Chavez in a statement. “With Keep Fresno Housed, the City of Fresno stands prepared to level the playing field and ensure that residents are not unlawfully ushered out of the comfort and safety of their homes.” 

The program – which will be run through the city attorney’s office and include two legal clerks – will help tenants who face an unlawful detainer lawsuit, which is a suit a landlord brings to court to legally evict a tenant and receive payment of back rent. 

Under the program, tenants will be able to submit a questionnaire regarding the rental period and eviction to city mediators. The mediators will review each case and render an opinion to the tenant and landlord regarding the eviction. 

Mediators will offer tenants and landlords the opportunity to meet and discuss the opinion with the goal of avoiding taking the suit to court. 

The questionnaire includes questions to the tenant asking if he or she thinks the eviction is legal, if the tenant has lost any income due to the COVID-19 pandemic and if the tenant has reported any issues from his or her housing unit to the city’s code enforcement department. 

Chavez said he is collaborating with the Fresno County Superior Court’s Civil Division to ensure his program will be integrated into the administration of unlawful detainer actions in court. 

“Unlike other proposals that attempt to alleviate legal burdens for Fresno’s tenants, which are funded with one-time funds, Keep Fresno Housed is a sustainable program that will help keep Fresnans secure in their homes.

One of those other ideas is a proposal. to create a Right to Counsel for tenants. Although it has not been proposed by one of the council members, the council will hold a hearing about it on Thursday for discussion. 

The Fresno Right to Counsel Coalition is seeking to bring the program, which is currently operating in Los Angeles and San Francisco, to the Valley. 

Under the Right to Counsel plan, the city would hire three attorneys, a legal secretary, 9 to 12 part time legal clerks and an undisclosed number of legal interns. 

That plan would rack up a $1 million price tag and provide 1,000 tenants with legal representation for their eviction cases.

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.