New Orleans—Today, 36 public health, legal, housing, and other organizations submitted a letter to New Orleans First and Second City Court officials urging them to ensure no one is forced from their home before August 24th, 2020. Local judges and clerks of court can choose to provide renters and landlords with some certainty and relief from a logjam of cases by extending our current court closure to align with the tenant protections in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Courts are currently closed through the end of the month and Mayor Cantrell has extended the stay at home order, but as May 16th approaches the 176,000 renters in New Orleans face an uncertain future. Thousands lost income and jobs due to the coronavirus shutdown and were late on April rent, setting the scene for a possible tsunami of evictions and homelessness when courts re-open.
The CARES Act, on the other hand, provides a clear deadline for renters and landlords. The Act prohibits owners of properties that participate in federal subsidy programs or have a federally backed mortgage from filing an eviction for nonpayment of rent, charging late fees, or issuing a notice to vacate for any reason until July 25th. It also requires all notices to vacate to provide 30 days before filing for eviction, which effectively prohibits eviction filings until August 24th.
Based on federal databases of multifamily properties like apartment complexes, the groups estimate the CARES Act protections cover at least—and likely significantly more than—48% of all renters in New Orleans. The real share is likely to be much higher because the estimate doesn’t include rentals in doubles, triples, and quads with federally backed mortgages. Perhaps even more relevant for court officials, is that the cases before their courts are likely to disproportionately come from CARES Act-covered properties.
“Preliminary data from our Eviction Court Monitoring project shows that over 12 days of monitoring in the fall of 2019, the largest volume of cases came from six complexes. Interestingly, all of these complexes are covered by the CARES Act. The vast majority of renters facing removal from their homes will be covered by these protections and since we face a long, slow recovery, it’s clear we all deserve the benefits the protections afford,” said Veronica Reed, Executive Director of Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative.
“I have yet to receive a stimulus check or unemployment after losing two jobs. Rent payments have not stopped and it’s demoralizing to feel you’re part of an entire demographic left out at sea. We are drawing a lottery for lifejackets. These protections are absolutely necessary to create some certainty and breathing room for so many of us to even begin catching up on our bills,” said Daiquiri Jones, a local performer, producer, and member of the New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly.
Should court officials decide to open earlier than August 24th, they are likely to face a compliance nightmare. Though the CARES Act covers an enormous number of people, the protections are profoundly impractical because it is virtually impossible for a renter to look up their landlord’s mortgage to see if it is federally-backed. In many cases, that process requires the last four digits of the property owners’ social security number. Most renters won’t even know these protections exist and the Courts will need to do individual research on each property in order to ensure compliance with the Act.
“When this pandemic first struck, our First and Second City Court officials acted quickly and made New Orleans a leader in helping our residents stay home and keep their homes. Though our federal government’s COVID-19 response has been inconsistent, they have the ability to step up at the local level and provide the certainty and protections our community needs,” said Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center.
Join us and let First and Second City Court officials know eviction court should stay closed until August 24th. Sign the petition here.
See the full letter sent to judges here and the full list of signers below:
American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana
Broad Community Connections
Crescent City Community Land Trust
Disability Rights Louisiana
Greater New Orleans Caring Collective
Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance
Greater New Orleans Louis A. Martinet Legal Society
Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies
Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative
Jewish Voice for Peace—New Orleans
Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana
Lang Law LLC
Louisiana Budget Project
Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights
Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center
Louisiana Public Health Institute
Lower 9th Ward Homeownership Association
Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans
New Orleans Family Justice Center
New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly
Orleans Public Defenders
Power Coalition for Equity and Justice
Puentes New Orleans
Ride New Orleans
Southeast Louisiana Legal Services
Southern Poverty Law Center
Step Up Louisiana
Tulane/Canal Neighborhood Development Corporation
Total Community Action, Inc.
United Way of Southeast Louisiana
UNITY of Greater New Orleans
Women with a Vision