NEW ORLEANS — Johnquil Kelley, a French Quarter restaurant employee, has been out of a job since mid-March. Unable to pay her April rent for her Algiers apartment, she said she notified her landlord Joshua Bruno.
He responded with a bright pink notice that stated: “THREE DAY NOTICE TO PAY OR VACATE.”
Under that headline, the notice states, the amount owed, late fees and the following: “Demand for possession is hereby made. You are hereby given notice to PAY or vacate the dwelling on or before midnight of the 2nd day of this notice.”
Kelley said she tried to explain her predicament to Bruno, owner of the complex, Cypress Park Apartments.
“I'm still waiting on a stimulus check, and I'm still waiting on my unemployment— anything, something — so I can pay him his rent,” Kelley said. “But he still put the notice on the door.”
Kelley notified attorney Hannah Adams of Southeastern Louisiana Legal Services, a free legal service for people who can’t afford a private attorney.
“Receiving a bright red notice to vacate in three days is an intimidation tactic that is going to cause some tenant to move when they really don't have to right now,” Adams said. “Moving right now means you are exposing yourself to potential infection with the coronavirus.”
The federal CARES Act, which provides emergency stimulus money and financial protection during the coronavirus pandemic, also prohibits evictions until the end of July for property owners who receive federal subsidies, which Bruno does.
Adams said exchanged emails with Bruno, who tried to defend his actions.
“It's really disappointing to see landlords acting in a way that violates federal law,” she said.
For her part, Kelley said she tried to work with Bruno, but then her apartment’s air conditioning unit was removed and hasn’t been replaced.
Sada Jones, another tenant who can't pay because she lost her job, said her broken window hasn't been fixed and Bruno tried to evict her after a dispute over a key.
“They don't have a heart. No sympathy. No empathy for people going through a hard time,” Jones said.
WWL-TV contacted Bruno by email, and he initially wrote that the red notices were “past mistaken and unauthorized notices.”
In another email, he wrote, “Sadly, we dispute Ms. Adams’ accusations as we have NOT filed ANY evictions whatsoever nor violated the CARES act in any way, shape or form.”
As for explanations about complaints from the two tenants, Bruno accused Kelley of stealing and selling the a/c unit, a claim she adamantly denies.
As for Jones, he accused Jones of breaking into her own apartment after attempting to move out. She, too, vigorously disputes his version of events.
Adams said Bruno should be trying to work with tenants during these challenging times.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “You know, the families we work with are dealing with unimaginable amounts of stress and anxiety about concerns about their health and the health of their loved ones.”
Adams said he has tried to reach out to tenants in a cooperative way.
“With many of our residents who were impacted economically by the spread of the coronavirus, our team acted proactively to reach out and ensure lines of communication were established with our communities,” he wrote. “We wanted to ensure our residences that we would be available – should they have any questions.”
For renters who are struggling with payments, the City of New Orleans announced it has teamed up with Total Community Action to offer assistance. That program can be reached through the city’s Office of Community Development at (504) 658-4200.
For renters who have legal disputes with landlords or property owners, Southeastern Louisiana Legal Services can be reached at (504) 529-1000.