NEW ORLEANS — Federal and local governments have taken strong steps to protect tenants who can’t pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic, including an all-out ban on evictions in New Orleans through May 18 and a federal ban that applies to all government-financed or subsidized units through July.
But what do landlords do when tenants take that as carte blanche to break the rules?
Kym Valene owns doubles and 4-plexes totaling 26 units in the gentrifying Upper Ninth Ward and Bywater. She said she’s lucky most of her tenants are still paying rent, but a few aren’t. And some feel emboldened to break the rules of their lease.
“I have a tenant with an illegal dog. My insurance won’t cover pit bulls. And I have no way to evict a tenant who isn’t paying attention to the rules and putting other tenants in danger,” Valene said. “I don’t understand how you can be forced to stay in a situation where it could be a danger to you, your insurance won’t cover it, I could lose my insurance and there’s nothing I can do about the situation.”
Valene owns her property outright, without a federally backed mortgage, so the federal CARES Act’s moratorium on late-rent fees and evictions doesn’t apply to her. But the fact that First and Second City Court in New Orleans are closed, does. She can’t even start an eviction proceeding without those courts, and they will remain closed through at least May 18.
Now, City Councilman Jared Brossett says he will offer a resolution at Thursday’s online council meeting urging those municipal courts to keep notices to vacate off the dockets until Aug. 24, a month after the CARES Act provisions applying to federally financed properties are lifted.
"I'm pushing to extend this to all evictions, so there isn't this mass confusion at First and Second City Courts that will definitely come in a few weeks,” Brossett said.
Brossett’s resolution is non-binding. He said it’s also “holistic,” taking landlords’ needs into account, as well. So, it “urges” the local courts to extend the eviction ban beyond the stay-at-home order time frame. And it “urges” state legislators and the Congressional delegation to pursue tax credits for landlords, so they can afford to keep tenants who haven’t been able to pay rent during the shutdown.
“I understand and am sympathetic to the plight of landlords and I want to help them too. That's why I'm filing this resolution,” Brossett said.
But he also urged landlords to seek help from the city or police if tenants are abusing the eviction ban, something landlords say has not helped at all.
“Even the police say they’re not arresting people for certain things because they don’t want to bring them to jail because of the coronavirus,” said Trudy Main, who owns apartment complexes in Jefferson Parish, where evictions are also on hold.
Main said she’s spending $1,260 a month on a private police detail to address complaints from tenants about one of their neighbors, essentially negating a month’s rent from the person violating the rules.
“That’s a lot of my problem with this guy,” she said. “He’s basically got to beat up one of my tenants before they’ll do anything.”
In New Orleans, flyers are popping up in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods urging tenants to “bleed the landlords dry” and go on a “rent strike.” That angered Joan Bostick, who says most of her tenants in that area are not paying rent.
“It’s a fallacy. People think if you’re a landlord, you don’t need their rent, but you do,” she said. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but I do have insurance and taxes and repairs, and they go on even though I’m not getting any money in.”
Valene said she tried calling City Hall, and they sent her to Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, a low-income law clinic that helps tenants fight illegal evictions.
“They kept sending me to a tenants’ rights place. There’s absolutely nowhere that can help a landlord,” she said.