A bill protecting Louisiana tenants from illegal evictions is now in effect
A new Louisiana state law that aims to give renters more protections and introduce new penalties for landlords who evict tenants illegally is now in effect.
In Louisiana, a landlord must go through court to evict a tenant, unless they have a reasonable belief that a tenant has abandoned the property.
Some landlords in the past have used that abandonment clause following major hurricanes to illegally evict people – especially when tenants were evacuated.
“It gives (landlords) the opportunity to start over –maybe file some insurance claims, repair damage that may have existed prior to the storm, and then bring in a whole new set of tenants,” Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center Executive Director Cashauna Hill said. “And the reason they were able to continue to do this and act with impunity is that prior to now, there had not been any consequences in our laws for landlords who illegally evicted tenants. The new legislation aims to prevent those evictions but it also will hold landlords more accountable in other ways:
- Renters can recover a penalty when landlords skip over the court eviction process: the landlord would need to pay the tenant either $500 or twice the amount of monthly rent, whichever is greater.
- Tenants evacuating for a storm for 30 days in parishes with a federal disaster declaration cannot be used as evidence of “abandoning” a property.
- Renters fighting illegal evictions won’t have to pay expensive security bonds and have waived court costs.
On Thursday, tenants, Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center officials and State Representative Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans) celebrated with a ceremonial signing with Governor John Bel Edwards over HB-160.
Landry, who is the main author of the bill, said that this act illustrates how bi-partisan legislation can work together to improve people’s lives.
“I've worked on tenants rights for a long time, but to be able to pass something that will help hurricane victims in the future, less than a year later, right before the worst of hurricane season - it's nothing short of amazing,” Landry said.
The bill garnered bipartisan support from almost every representative in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes,ncluding Tanner Magee, Jerome Zeringue, Beryl Amedee, Bryan Fontenot and Joe Orgeron.
“Tanner was someone I immediately went to,” Landry said. “Because after Ida last year, he was so instrumental in getting attention and assistance to the bayou region. So you know, it was a no-brainer for him and for all my fellow colleagues, and then the governor to get involved.”
In April, Ben Toups gave an emotional testimony in front of a House committee recounting his experience after Hurricane Ida. Toups recounted the constant pressure he and his wife faced to leave their apartment in Houma although there was little damage to his personal unit. He did not know they had a right to stay.
Toups said that he’s grateful to see this chapter close and all the effort stakeholders put in to actualize the bill.
“It's gonna be a good moment and it's a small bill, but you know, people are protected for 30 days,” Toups said. “That's gonna help a lot of people out instead of just being forced out.”
For Hill, these tenants' personal testimony are critical in getting legislation passed.
“When a large percentage of the legislators themselves may be property owners or landlords, it's important for the people who are making these decisions, who are setting policy to have the on the ground perspective of people who have been impacted by the policy that elected officials set,” Hill said.
And as Louisiana hits peak hurricane season, Hill hopes that this provides some refuge to over 1.4 million of the state’s renters.
“We hope that it provides some comfort for renters across the state to know that if a storm does hit their area, they will not be forced out of their homes illegally without some measure of recourse available to them and without some penalty available to the property owner,” Hill said.
Reporter Carly Berlin contributed to previous reporting.