Debris and rotting food sit outside Belmere Apartments after Hurricane Ida struck. Hundreds of Houma apartment residents were evicted without court process after the storm. (Photo by JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)
Louisiana lawmakers are looking to help renters avoid the situation tenants in the path of Hurricane Ida faced last year. Hundreds of apartment residents in the Houma area were surprised with eviction notices after the severe storm damaged their homes.
A House committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would prevent property owners from evicting tenants who are forced to abandon their units after a hurricane without going through the typical court process. The prohibition would be in place for 30 days and apply to areas that are placed under a federal disaster declaration.
Reps. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, and Tanner Magee, R-Houma, co-authored House Bill 160 with input from the Louisiana Fair Action Housing Center and the landlord lobby. Magee told the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure there are still residents in the district he represents who are living in tents since Ida struck Aug. 29. The Category 4 hurricane decimated the housing stock in Houma, leaving displaced renters with no options for shelter.
“It was egregious to see people were being thrown out of their homes at the worst possible time,” Landry said.
Magee said he learned apartment owners were sending eviction notices to tenants claiming units had been inspected immediately after the hurricane when access to the area was still restricted, meaning no inspections could have possibly taken place.
Ben Toups, whose family lived in a Houma apartment complex at the time of the storm, tearfully recalled to the committee how he received a “constant” stream of emails after the storm informing him he had to vacate his apartment. The building did not flood or sustain water damage, he said. Relatives and friends lost their homes in Ida, so his family had to relocate hours away. The Toups family now lives in Denham Springs and is paying far more in rent.
“There was no empathy or understanding” from the out-of-state landlord, Toups said.
Rep. Wilford Carter suggested to Landry and Magee that more extensive tenant protections are needed. The Lake Charles Democrat said many displaced residents in his city weren’t able to return home for months, long after landlords had removed personal possessions from apartments.
“This is nice, but this is not much,” Carter said regarding House Bill 160.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has come out in support of the proposal, which goes next to the House floor for consideration.
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