DENHAM SPRINGS, La. — As we begin hurricane season, renters in Louisiana may be getting some new legal protections.
House Bill 160, authored by State Representative Mandie Landry, will expand protections for 1.4 million Louisiana renters, according to the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center.
Eyewitness News’ Coverage after Hurricane Ida helped bring the issue to light, and potentially change the law in Louisiana.
In our initial coverage in September of 2021, we introduced you to Ben Toups. Toups was living at Houma Highlands apartments, and in a tough place.
“I never thought living in an apartment that I could get an email and I’m gone,” he said at the time. His complex, owned by ECI Group out of Atlanta, sent he and his wife an email telling them they’d have to move out.
But while other buildings in the complex were in need of repair, Toups’ apartment had no damage from the storm.
Soon after, Toups and his wife were intimidated and given an ultimatum: move out, or leave for repairs and pay full rent in the meantime.
“We were forced. We had literally no choice,” Toups told us Friday. He said after that, they tried to find apartments, but because so many other Southeast Louisiana residents had to move out after Hurricane Ida, rent was high and waiting lists were long.
Ten months later, though, he and his wife are settling into their newly-built home in Denham Springs; two hours from the bayou where he grew up.
“I miss Houma, I really do,” Toups said. “My heart will always be in the bayou, but just a little bit north of the bayou now, you know.”
And in that ten months, Toups may have helped change the law for renters like him. After our interview in September, he was contacted by the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, and asked to share his story with Louisiana legislators.
His testimony in committee was powerful and emotional.
“It was very difficult when your parents lost everything, your friends and family lost everything, and you got to find a place to go and there is no place to go,” said Toups at the Capitol in late March, choked up. “There’s no hotels and no uHauls.”
“Saying that this was the worst experience of our entire lives is an understatement,” he said as he wiped tears.
House Bill 160 passed unanimously in both chambers of the Louisiana legislature.
“I’m just really happy something was done. It kind of feels good, I’m not gonna lie,” Toups said to Eyewitness News.
If HB160 is signed into law, landlords wouldn’t be able to evict tenants within 30 days of a federal disaster declaration by claiming units were abandoned. Renters could get double their rent back.
“It’s heartbreaking to see that people are losing all their belongs and then also being kicked out,” Rep.Landry, who authored the bill, said.
She says many Louisianans have been pushed out of perfectly livable apartments by bad landlords after storms, who throw away tenants’ items or change locks while they’re evacuated.
“We saw a lot of bad apple landlords after Ida and Laura who were trying to use those hurricanes as an excuse to get some insurance money. And it just puts people out of their homes at the worst possible time,” she said.
Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center Executive Director, Cashauna Hill, released a statement after the bill passed unanimously in the Louisiana Senate, writing in part,
“Louisiana’s landlord-tenant laws provide virtually no rights for tenants, and often allow property owners to act without consequences, but this is an important step toward affording some dignity and peace of mind to renting families.”
As a new homeowner, Toups knows this won’t protect him this hurricane season, but hopes that by sharing his story, other renters in his home state and his beloved bayou will have time to recover after future storms.
The bill is now on Governor John Bel Edwards’ desk. A date for potential signing hasn’t been set.