BATON ROUGE—Today, the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center (LaFHAC) celebrated Louisiana’s 1.4 million renters winning new protections when the State Senate unanimously passed HB 160, by Rep. Mandie Landry. The bill would bring Louisiana in line with most other states that punish landlords who change the locks on tenants, toss out their things, or otherwise illegally evict them. Governor John Bel Edwards, who touted the bill in his State of the State speech, noted that this was especially prevalent after Hurricanes Laura, Delta, and Ida.
After watching landlords break the law with impunity two years in a row, LaFHAC made passing new protections its top priority at the legislature this session. During the bill’s first hearing in the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee, lawmakers heard emotional testimony from Ben Toups, who rode out Hurricane Ida with his wife at their Houma apartment complex. For weeks after the storm, they endured harassment and intimidation from their out-of-state landlords trying to remove them from their home despite the fact that it took minimal damage and they had nowhere else to go.
“Saying that this was the worst experience in our entire lives, was an understatement. I never expected that I could get an email telling me to get out, that I have no rights or say so in the matter, and then learn later that there were no consequences for our landlord trying to skirt the law and force us out illegally,” said Toups.
Thirty-nine states already have laws penalizing illegal evictions and the new statutory penalty of two months’ rent will put Louisiana in-line with similar states like Texas and Alabama. In addition, the bill also includes two other provisions to specifically protect renting families after storms: 1) it ensures that evacuating from the path of a deadly storm can’t be counted as evidence that a renter “abandoned” their apartment, and 2) it waives the expensive bonds that renters have to put up to file an injunction to stop an illegal eviction.
A number of renting families in Lake Charles also submitted testimony to the legislature explaining that these provisions would have protected them after they evacuated before Hurricane Laura. The management at Ashlynn Williams’ apartment complex illegally terminated her lease and then threw out $2,400 worth of furniture, despite the fact that it wasn’t damaged. “To lose everything and then be lied to and disrespected the way we were was just awful. These protections should have already been in place, but I’m glad to see them pass now so that no one else has to go through this,” she said.
“I’m grateful to my colleagues for understanding how necessary it is to have penalties that deter bad actor landlords from taking advantage of their tenants, especially during disasters. We have a long way to go to provide real security to Louisiana renters, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on this issue in the future,” said bill author, Rep. Landry.
The bill also garnered bi-partisan support, with nearly every representative from Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes joining as coauthors, including Reps. Tanner Magee, Jerome Zeringue, Beryl Amedee, Bryan Fontenot, and Joe Orgeron. “I was deeply disturbed watching my constituents being kicked out after the storm, despite having no place to go. It was unnecessary and I’m proud to have supported this bill so we can keep all our families safe in the future,” said Rep. Magee, who also called out bad actor landlords on twitter in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ida. “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,” said Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. “We’re grateful for all the tenants who experienced this and spoke up. At the very least, they should have the comfort of knowing that their harrowing experiences are going to make a difference for millions of their fellow Louisianans moving forward,” she continued.