NEW ORLEANS—On July 1st, 2023, the first provisions of the New Orleans Healthy Homes Ordinance, championed by public health and housing advocates last fall, will go into effect. The anti-retaliation section of the ordinance ensures that renters who are current on rent and otherwise in compliance with their lease, can ask for repairs and report health and safety violations without fear of retaliatory evictions.
Similar protections already exist in 43 states, though not at the statewide level in Louisiana. The language in the ordinance is based off of model legislation from the Unified Residential Landlord Tenant Act, already adopted in Texas, Georgia, and Kentucky, among other states. Under the new City ordinance, renters must notify a landlord about a maintenance issue before submitting a complaint to 311 or Code Enforcement. Landlords may move forward with an eviction if they can show a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for their actions.
Public health and housing advocates touted these new rules as an essential part of the Healthy Homes Ordinance because the threat of retaliatory evictions discourages renters from coming forward and reporting dangerous health and safety violations. During the hearings last fall, an eviction defense attorney at the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center (LaFHAC) shared the story of a client who miscarried after slipping on water from a leak the landlord refused to repair. The attorney estimated that roughly 40% of the agency’s eviction defense caseload were renters dealing with substandard conditions.
Advocates and attorneys have long noted the importance of a comprehensive Healthy Homes Ordinance, in part, because the anti-retaliation protections are also significantly limited. It’s been widely reported that New Orleans is in the midst of a long-standing housing crisis, where most renters are paying more than they can afford on housing costs. Not surprisingly, many renters who live in buildings with the worst conditions are very low-income and struggle to keep up with rent. Under the new City ordinance, a family living with a dangerous health or safety violation, who has also fallen even a dollar short or a day late on rent, will not be protected from eviction.
The City Council recently delayed the remaining provisions of the Healthy Homes Ordinance. The provisions have that been delayed:
The City Council chose not to adopt parts of the original ordinance that would have required regular inspections of rental properties. The delayed registration provisions will begin on January 1, 2024 for buildings with 50+ units, on July 1, 2024 for buildings with 4-49 units, and on January 1, 2025 for buildings with 1-3 units. The new health and safety inspection standard will apply to all units on January 1, 2024.
“This new anti-retaliation law is far from a silver bullet for families stuck in dangerous conditions and we hope that these whistle-blower protections—already enjoyed by millions of renters in nearly every other state—will actually be afforded to renters in New Orleans,” said Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. “Anyone facing eviction in New Orleans should immediately contact Southeast Louisiana Legal Services or the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center because you have a right to an attorney who may be able to help you use this law to keep your home,” she continued.