Bill would allow people looking for rentals to explain if their evictions were caused by disasters

Arielle Butler had no issues paying her rent before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Zachary woman said Monday. She baked and worked for a maintenance company cleaning churches, but when churches closed down during the pandemic, Butler had to rely on unemployment payments.

However, “the unemployment — which was $636 weekly — went down to $36 a week, and it was impossible to raise a family on that,” Butler told the Louisiana House Commerce Committee. She and her family of seven were put out, she said, despite the CDC moratorium of evictions due to nonpayment.

The day her family of seven were evicted, she said “there was a truck waiting outside to throw my family’s belongings out.”

“We were told ‘we have 15 minutes to get all that we could out,’” she told the committee.”My son, who is autistic, was still laying in the bed. My daughter, who had … surgery three days before, was also laying there. My brother was in the middle of his virtual learning class, and we were told to leave.”

Testifying for HB 374, which, among other things, will allow renters to provide some context surrounding their evictions, Butler said she and her family lived in a hotel for 45 days before finally finding a home. But she said, “so many people won’t be that lucky. And y’all know that if I have to move again, I know that record will follow me. And it will make it so much harder to get a decent home for my family, and that scares me.”

According to the Census Household Pulse Survey Data,135,000 households in Louisiana reported they can’t pay or have little confidence they can pay next month’s rent.

“There are so many of us with similar stories right now,” Butler said.

Rep. Royce Duplessis’s (D-New Orleans) introduced HB 374, which in addition to allowing rental applicants to provide the context surrounding their COVID-19-era evictions, prevents landlords from charging for an application fee unless they tell applicants their screening criteria, process and amount. The bill passed favorably without objection from the committee.

The bill would allow previously evicted residents to include a personal statement with their credit report “indicating that the consumer has been financially impacted by a declared disaster or emergency.”

“Landlords and apartment owners have also testified that more accurate reporting is needed because it’ll help everybody involved,” Duplessis said in support of his bill.

Rep. Danny McCormick (R-Oil City) said he was concerned that Duplessis’ bill “is getting in the middle of a private contract between private individuals.”

But the proposed law deals with what “comes before a contract… in the application process” and before a lease is signed, testified Maxwell Ciardullo, the director of policy and communications at the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center.

“This is really about making sure people have all the information before they enter into a contract,” Ciardullo said. “More than just regulating the actual contract.”

Jim Rather with the Apartment Association of Louisiana spoke against the bill, saying he was concerned about the potential requirements for application fees for landlords. He said, “We are not opposed to transparency, it’s just the way the bill attempts to accomplish that.”

The bill will move to the House floor, but Duplessis told the Illuminator he isn’t sure when. Paula Davis (R-Baton Rouge), chairwoman of the committee, requested “all parties meet to further clarify any issues that remain” before it reaches the floor.