If you have ever rented an apartment in New Orleans, chances are high that your relationship with your landlord was problematic at best. From storm damage not being properly tended to, to regular maintenance requests being ignored, many renters in New Orleans have experienced some degree of neglect from landlords who are only interested in collecting a check every month.
It’s time we face facts: New Orleans has a slumlord problem. Fortunately, organizers across the city are teaming up with city council members to do something about it.
Recently, the Healthy Homes ordinance was introduced to put a stop to slumlords taking advantage of renters and to hold them accountable when their properties fall short of a basic standard of health and safety.
Though some may be more interested in how the ordinance could help (details to come), LaFHAC’s Community Engagement Coordinator Malcolm Phillips was interested in who the ordinance could help, so he reached out to Lakeitha Ebbs, a recent client of LaFHAC’s whose family was presented with an eviction notice after refusing to pay rent due to the horrendous state that their apartment had fallen into after Hurricane Ida. Malcolm was able to speak with Ms. Ebbs about her experience in an effort to shed some light on what a lot of renters in the city are going through.
Ms. Ebbs described living at her complex (whose name we’re omitting for safety reasons) for several years and having maintenance requests denied or ignored over and over again. These included complaints about mold, infestation, and air conditioning. All of these issues were compounded by roof damage her unit took in the wake of Hurricane Ida, which caused a severe leak. “If you walked into my bathroom, the water would completely cover your feet. I have mushrooms growing out of my walls. I have five kids [and] we can’t live like this.” Though she did report maintenance workers coming over once or twice to address these issues, the most they ever did was cover up the damage as opposed to fixing the source. “If they would have took care of the problem beforehand, it wouldn’t have got this bad.”
“She came to the point where she had to move out of her apartment because it was too hard to breathe.”
Ms. Ebbs was not the only one she knew having similar issues. “They took the fuse out of my mothers A/C, so she didn’t have A/C for a year and a half. She came to the point where she had to move out of her apartment because it was too hard to breathe. It’s nothing but black mold all around here.”
Ms. Ebbs said that her primary concern has always been her health and the health of her kids. Not only did the poor conditions of her unit impact her peace of mind, it also affected her professional life. “I missed a lot of days of work waiting for them to come fix things, most of the time they never showed,” she explained.
“I should be able to walk into my home and be comfortable and FEEL like I’m at home. I shouldn’t have to sit here and fight.”
Ms. Ebbs eventually just paid the rent for fear of her children being displaced, so her eviction was not processed. “I felt like I was backed into a corner,” she said, “I paid the rent because I didn’t want to be homeless with my children.” Even after she paid the rent, however, management still never came to fix anything. “I pay $1034 a month,” she continued, “I should be able to walk into my home and be comfortable and FEEL like I’m at home. I shouldn’t have to sit here and fight.”
This isn’t the first time Ms. Ebbs has had to deal with health and safety issues at home. She had similar issues with mold and leaks when living in another complex managed by the same company. Her niece was burned by exposed wiring from electrical issues that management refused to fix. She also spoke of a coworker of hers who lives in a different complex owned by the same entity and is struggling with all of the same issues.
“It would mean everything for me to know that I am secure…to know that somebody has my back, that someone is listening, to have some sort of protection.”
Lakeitha Ebbs is one person out of a plethora of renters who are living in sub-par and inhumane conditions due to property owners having no real consequences for neglecting their responsibilities as landlords. It’s about time we took a stand as a community to stop it. Part of the Healthy Homes program would implement proactive inspections for larger and corporately owned rental properties so that they would never have the chance to get as bad as Ms. Ebbs described. With your support, we could protect New Orleans renters from being cornered by predatory slumlords and having to choose between eviction and risking their health. When asked what a Healthy Homes ordinance would mean to her, Ms. Ebbs said, “It would mean everything for me to know that I am secure. I don’t have to worry about being homeless because they’re working with me. To know that somebody has my back, that someone is listening, to have some sort of protection.”
If you agree that New Orleans renters deserve safe and healthy homes, you can help TODAY by sending a quick email to your councilmember here.
We commend Ms. Ebbs for having the courage to share her story with us, as well as anyone else willing to stand up for our community. Let’s take action!