Baton Rouge—Last Friday, Senate Bill 466 cleared its last legislative hurdle when it passed the Louisiana House. SB 466 finally provides a real chance of recovering security deposits from negligent landlords to the 1.5 million Louisianans who rent. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) led the advocacy efforts for this change because most renters never expect to see their deposit again, even when they do everything right. Under current law, landlords only face a slap on the wrist for unlawfully keeping deposits.
During the bill’s first hearing, LSU law student Jourdan Curet explained that when the management began to let her Baton Rouge townhome fall into disrepair, she gave notice and asked for her security deposit back after moving. Her unit was still in good condition when she left, but after multiple requests—including with the help of her mother’s law firm—she had still not seen a dollar of her $500 deposit. “Even if I took my landlord to small claims court and won, I’m sure he’d continue keeping deposits because most students don’t have the knowledge, time, or resources to file in small claims and the penalty was negligible for him either way,” said Curet. “I know I have access to more resources than most renters, so I’m elated that we’ve finally created some fairness in this part of the law,” she continued.
SB 466, carried by Sen. Ed Price of Gonzales, increases the penalty to bring it into line with national standards. When the new law goes into effect on August 1, 2018, renters who win their case can recover three times as much as typically awarded under current law. For a Louisiana renter who spends roughly $800 on a security deposit, the amount recovered from a negligent landlord would increase to $2,400.
“A higher penalty might have created some incentive for my landlord to return my deposit,” said Aimee Struble, a self-employed house painter in New Orleans. “Instead, it took being lucky enough to find pro-bono counsel and two years to get to court to finally recover any damages.” Struble was renting from a large real estate developer and had to leave after a roof leak and mold damaged most of her belongings.
This new law is the culmination of four years of work at the Legislature, starting with a 2014 Senate resolution that acknowledged renters in Louisiana have few rights and called for a comparison of state landlord-tenant law to national standards.
Further study found that Louisiana security deposit law had not been updated since 1985 and was notably out of step with surrounding states. After initial opposition by landlord lobbying groups in 2017 and during the 2018 legislative session, GNOFHAC, legal experts, and landlord groups agreed to increase penalties for landlords who do not follow the law. The final bill passed out of committees in both houses with the unanimous support of lawmakers.
“Loyola Law Clinic routinely represents low-income renters whose landlords have stolen their security deposits. Even after winning a lawsuit, the most renters usually receive back under the old law is the stolen deposit. For bad actors, that was no disincentive. Low-income people cannot easily access attorneys or the courts. Without deposit funds, there is a struggle to secure new housing. The new law is a step in the right direction for Louisiana renters and for our communities,” said Davida Finger, a Loyola University College of Law professor who helped craft the reforms in the bill.
“Anyone who has rented in Louisiana knows the law is stacked against you. As families across the state see increases in college tuition, health insurance, and other expenses, we’re grateful to see the state offer this measure of economic relief to Louisiana’s 1.5 million renters,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director of GNOFHAC. The results of GNOFHAC’s own survey showed that most renters would have used their deposits for their next apartment or to pay off bills, had the deposits been returned.