What Rights Do Tenants Have in New Orleans During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a record-breaking number of Louisiana citizens have suffered job loss. In April, that number hit a record high of 15.1% of the Louisiana population. By June, that number still hovered around 9.7%. As a result, the government has offered several protections intended to aid Louisiana citizens, including protecting tenants.

Unfortunately, many landlords and tenants struggle to understand the new regulations and the impact they can have on them. Exactly what protections do you have under those laws? Consider how tenant rights have changed as a result of COVID-19 and what tenants can expect in terms of protections.

1. Tenants could not be evicted for nonpayment until July 25.

The federal government passed a ban on evictions, stating that tenants could not be evicted from a property for nonpayment until at least July 25. Trump is currently trying to extend that deadline, since many people are still suffering job uncertainty or decreased income as a result of the pandemic. Once served with eviction, tenants have 30 days to vacate the property.

The ban on eviction did not mean that landlords could not serve tenants with a Notice to Vacate, which let tenants know that they needed to move out of the property. However, since the courts closed down to help decrease the spread of COVID-19, landlords could not legally force tenants to leave the property until the ban on evictions ended.

In spite of the ban on evictions, tenants do still bear responsibility for paying all rent accrued during this period. While landlords cannot evict tenants immediately, tenants will still be responsible for paying their rent. Failure to pay rent during the pandemic can still result in eviction after that period ends.

2. Tenants in some types of properties had further protections.

Tenants in several properties could not be evicted, nor could late fees be charged, if tenants lived in certain specific properties. This included:

  • Section 8 housing
  • HUD-subsidized properties
  • Properties that receive Low Income Housing Tax Credits
  • Properties in which the landlord has a federal-backed mortgage

3. Tenants always have 30 days to vacate the property after an eviction notice.

If you receive an eviction notice for any reason, including inability to pay your rent now that the restrictions on evictions have expired, you have 30 days following that legal notice to vacate the property. You do not have to worry about packing up and leaving on the spot as soon as you have been served with an eviction notice. Thanks to that 30-day period, you will have time to find alternative housing and generate the income you need in order to pay your rent.

4. Tenants who live in income-based housing and lose a source of income should see a reduction in rent.

In income-based housing, tenants pay for their housing based on a percentage of their income, rather than having to pay the full amount usually charged for rent. The government subsidizes the rest of the cost of housing. If you live in income-based housing and suffered a decrease in your income due to COVID-19, either due to job loss or due to decreased hours as a result of the pandemic, you can apply to have your rent reduced, as well. This provision can help eliminate some of the financial burden faced by many people in the midst of the pandemic.

5. Landlords cannot forcibly evict tenants under any circumstances.

While landlords can serve a notice of eviction once the ban on evictions ends, they cannot forcibly evict tenants. In order to force an eviction, landlords must work with the police after filing a notice with Louisiana court. That means that landlords cannot:

  • Turn off utilities to the property in an effort to force tenants to move
  • Lock tenants out of the property
  • Forcibly remove a tenant’s possessions without the consent of the tenant

If your landlord attempts to forcibly evict you, you may have legal recourse. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your legal rights.

What happens if I cannot afford to pay my rent due to income loss because of COVID-19?

Tenants are still responsible for paying rent, even in the face of COVID-19 job loss. While your landlord could not evict you because of failure to pay until the federal freeze on evictions runs out, many tenants are struggling now, as that restriction runs out. If you lost your job or suffered decreased income due to COVID-19, you may have options available.

First, talk to your landlord as soon as possible. Many landlords are willing to work with tenants as much as possible to help them manage during the pandemic. Talk to your landlord and let them know about your job loss as well as what you plan to do about it or any steps you have taken to secure income. Discuss what you can pay or when you think you may be able to pay.

Apply for unemployment as soon as possible. COVID-19 guidelines have changed the way people apply for unemployment and the people who can seek unemployment. Freelancers and self-employed individuals may have the right to unemployment benefits under COVID-19 relief provisions. Apply for unemployment as soon as possible to help increase your income and your ability to pay during this time.

Seek alternative housing if needed. If income restrictions continue and you cannot afford to pay your rent, make alternative housing arrangements as soon as possible. Your landlord may allow you to break your lease early if you are up front about your inability to pay.

If you feel that a landlord has violated your rights as a tenant, either due to normal tenant requirements or due to the new regulations associated with COVID-19, do not wait. Get in touch with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and work toward resolution. If you need an attorney experienced with New Orleans tenant rights, contact Stephenson, Chavarri & Dawson, L.L.C. at 504-523-6496 today.

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