By Gary Rhoades

With the Santa Monica school year about to begin this month, local parents, educators and landlords should be aware of the unique problems caused by evictions during the school year as well as a new city law that limits such evictions.

It was the first week of August 2017, and Santa Monica student Audrey Bridges knew her first day of third grade was just around the corner. Thanks to her mother’s and teachers’ diligent preparations, Audrey was all set for the school year. Alice Bridges had spent many hours to make sure specialized services for her daughter’s learning disabilities were connected to her new classes.

The fact that her teachers, counselors, and office staff already knew Audrey played a key role each year in the success of these preparations.  As a single mother, Alice Bridges also worked to make sure that her own support services (babysitting, ex-husband, flexible work hours, and afterschool pick-ups) were all lined up to make the school year a successful one.

But all their work was suddenly in jeopardy as that same week, Alice’s landlord served her with an eviction notice.

The notice was a surprise as Alice had always paid her rent on time and had never violated the lease. And a nasty surprise, as the notice only gave Audrey and Alice until the end of September to move out. Alice didn’t think they could find another affordable place in Santa Monica and certainly not that quickly. And she could not imagine having to leave Santa Monica and transfer Audrey away from her school.

This situation is emblematic of many school-year evictions. No-fault eviction notices (such as those based on owner’s intent to occupy the unit or withdraw it from the rental market) occur year-round, but those occurring for families during the school year are of particular concern to any community. All students have their unique and individualized relationship with a school, along with plans and support systems built around the school. For students with disabilities like Audrey, there are also unique, tailored services that have been applied for and approved.

Common sense says and several studies demonstrate that disrupting all of the above relationships and plans by moving or changing schools in the middle of the school year can be harmful for children. The consensus of the studies is that mid-year moves are likely to disrupt children’s peer networks and interfere with the learning process.

School year evictions are also linked to lower standardized test performances. Current findings show that students’ mobility most consistently affects their writing. Along these same lines, the school year eviction of a student’s teacher or other significant school staff member is another disruption that can harm a student’s education.

To protect families in the future, the Santa Monica City Council passed an ordinance in May 2018 that enhances tenant protections for students and educators against no-fault evictions during the school year. Under the law, a court should not grant an eviction if the following are true:

1)      a child under the age of 18 or any educator resides in the unit; and

2)      the child or educator is a tenant in the unit or has a custodial or family relationship with a tenant in the unit; and

3)      the tenant has resided in the unit for 12 months or more; and

4)      the effective date of the notice of termination of tenancy falls during the child or educator’s school year; and

5)     the termination does not allege any fault of the tenant but is based on the owner’s intent to occupy, demolish or withdraw the unit from the rental market.

Santa Monica tenants in this situation should not wait for the eviction litigation to start, before acting. As soon as they get the termination notice, they should inform their landlord, preferably in writing, of the City’s new law. If that response doesn’t result in the landlord’s immediate withdrawal of the eviction notice, the tenants should contact an attorney as well as the City Attorney’s office at 310-458-8336.

Gary Rhoades is a Santa Monica Deputy City Attorney. The names of the mother and daughter have been changed for privacy reasons. Though the law prohibiting school year evictions was not in place last year to protect Alice and Audrey, the City Attorney’s Office was able to persuade the landlord to rescind the eviction notice.