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GNOFHAC Sues Local Landlord, Tenants Allege Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

Posted on 29. Aug, 2018 by

New Orleans—Today, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) filed suit in federal court against Jerry Kelly Jr. and a number of LLCs he owns. In the suit, former tenants and a previous leasing agent allege, among other things, that Mr. Kelly grabbed the buttocks of a woman during lease signing, entered a unit without notice while a tenant was showering, and exhibited a preference to rent to “young, skinny, white girls.”

GNOFHAC began its investigation into Mr. Kelly after former tenants of his multiple Uptown apartments made allegations against him on social media forums. Soon after, a former leasing agent with detailed knowledge of Mr. Kelly’s rental practices independently contacted GNOFHAC and corroborated that Mr. Kelly discriminated against current and prospective tenants based on sex.

One previous tenant, who was 20 years old when Mr. Kelly rented to her, shared during an interview with GNOFHAC that Mr. Kelly repeatedly let himself into her apartment without warning, regularly asked her for dates, told her he would reduce her rent if she “set him up on a date” with one of her friends, and admitted he only rents to women. After only six months, the tenant broke her lease and moved in with friends to escape Mr. Kelly’s advances.

The former leasing agent who contacted GNOFHAC reported that Mr. Kelly harassed several of his female tenants through sexual propositions, unauthorized and unannounced entry into their apartments, requests for dates, and multiple late-night phone calls.

GNOFHAC also conducted an undercover investigation of Mr. Kelly’s rental practices using mystery shoppers. One mystery shopper in her early 20s reported that during a conversation in his office, Mr. Kelly openly stared at her body and nibbled his lips as he looked at her legs. Mr. Kelly told another mystery shopper in her 30s that she was “an all grown up woman” and that she was too “pristine and together” to live in the apartment he was showing her. Mr. Kelly promptly and reliably returned the calls of female mystery shoppers and met with them in person about the advertised apartment units, but did not return any phone calls from male mystery shoppers.

“We often think of sexual harassment and discrimination as a workplace issue, but landlords are just as likely to abuse the power they hold over current and prospective tenants,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director at GNOFHAC. “The allegations in this case should concern us all, and we implore any person with knowledge of similar behavior to report their suspicions to the Fair Housing Action Center so that we can prevent future harm,” she continued.

GNOFHAC is represented in this matter by the Tulane Law School Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic and by GNOFHAC attorneys Elizabeth Owen and Peter Theis. The full legal complaint is available here.

Contact: Maxwell Ciardullo, 504-273-6769, mciardullo@gnofairhousing.org

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The work that provided the basis for this release was supported, in part, by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this release. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government. 

Staff Spotlight: Meena Haque

Posted on 18. Jul, 2018 by

In this series, we’ll be highlighting the contributions our fabulous staff makes to our organization. After all, any organization is only as powerful as its people–and ours are powerful indeed. While many of our staff members work in an outreach capacity and engage directly with our clients and supporters, some of our staff remain behind the scenes. I’m Aviv Rau, a summer intern working in the Education & Outreach Department. To kick it off, I decided to start by interviewing Meena Haque, GNOFHAC’s Development Manager. In our interview, Meena stressed the importance of coalition-building and collaborating for social justice work, the racial justice lens that guides her work, and her strong commitment to fighting for fair housing. She also shared a glimpse at her typical day in the office and what her job here entails.

If you had to describe your job here in a sentence or less, how would you summarize it?

I am the Development Manager for the Fair Housing Action Center and I work on bringing money into the organization, whether that’s through individual giving, fundraisers, events, sponsorships, grant-writing, or an annual appeal or monthly giving programs.

What brought you to GNOFHAC?  

I graduated from Syracuse University, where I studied Political Science and International Relations and minored in Middle Eastern Studies and LGBT Studies. The first job I had right after college was working for UNICEF, which is housed under the United Nations. I was doing community engagement and community outreach with them and raising awareness and funds for issues different children face around the world, whether that’s natural disasters, famine in different parts of Africa, Syrian refugees, or working with Palestinian children. After that, I worked for other nonprofits, including an anti-human trafficking organization and the National Audubon Society where I did environmental and conservation work. What led me to fair housing was realizing that my values and beliefs align more so with civil rights organizations and social justice groups. As much as I love environmental work, I wasn’t doing the environmental work I wanted to do on the racial and environmental justice side. I wanted to go back to something that was racial justice-oriented, and I came across this position and applied. To me, fair housing is about ending the racial wealth gap in New Orleans and in Louisiana. You have to have a very strong commitment to social justice to be passionate about this type of work.

What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your time here thus far?

There have been a lot, but one valuable lesson I’ve learned is that when you collaborate and join forces with different and like-minded groups, you can create a bigger impact and send a bigger message. It’s just a myth that there’s a limited amount of funds and resources when in actuality there is a lot of money out there. I think my favorite aspect of my job is the ability and privilege to meet different people in different walks of life. I just got back from Denver a few weeks ago where I met with a fair housing cohort. The group itself was about 20 folks and they represented seven or eight different fair housing organizations from all over the country. It was really cool to meet other groups that are doing things similarly and differently, but also to hear everyone’s personal stories of why they’re involved. I learned about this issue from an interfaith perspective–so me being Muslim, how am I using my faith in activism to fight against certain issues? But also there were folks in the cohort who were Jewish and they were talking about what it means to be Jewish doing this work and how they use their faith and their activism to fight for housing issues. It was cool to hear that. My favorite part is the ability and opportunity to meet really different people, whether it be folks who are doing similar work or folks who are receiving our services.

What does your typical day at the office entail?

It depends. I just started with the organization back in late October, so in terms of what fair housing entails, I’ve still been learning the ropes, whether that’s applying for grants or just doing more research on my own. My day is either spent doing fundraising and grant-writing, or reaching out to donors and board members or sponsors. In the future, I’m going to start to meet with the donors and major funders to inspire them to give back more because I think everyone has the capacity to give in a way that’s personally meaningful.

I’m interested in what you mean by “personally meaningful.” Care to elaborate?

It really depends on who I’m talking to. Sometimes if I’m talking to donors, I try to gauge their level of knowledge when it comes to housing justice and housing rights. I try to frame it in a way that they can understand. So if they happen to be really passionate about children and education, I’ll make the connection between housing and schools. If the donors are passionate about health reform and healthcare, then I can talk to them about how if people don’t have access to safe homes and they live in dilapidated homes or areas that are compromising their health, then how are they functioning as healthy and contributing members of society? It really depends on who I meet with and who I talk to because having them teach me where they are helps me frame the work that I’m doing a little bit better. I try to always paint a narrative whether it’s talking to individual donors and board members or talking to people who work for national foundations–program officers, for example.

Which local organization/initiative/coalition/activist would you like to should out for the work they’re doing and why?

Gosh, there are so many! I really like Paper Monuments. They are committed to showing New Orleans history from a racial lens; Take ‘Em Down NOLA was behind the movement to take down the Confederate statues in New Orleans. These groups ask important questions from a digital, visual, and oral storytelling lens, like what are we doing to showcase the authentic history of New Orleans? Also, the local Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has a campaigns to fix people’s broken tail lights because that’s one of the routine stops police officers do when they pull over people of color. DSA is going around to different communities and different neighborhoods and volunteering their time to check people’s taillights, so that police officers don’t have an excuse to pull them over.

What is one housing-related issue you’d like to make people more aware of?

I want people to see the issue of housing from a historic lens–that segregation is something that was created and has been perpetuated for decades.  Many of the communities we think of as “unsafe” have historically had money divested from them. So when you’re not investing in communities, it’s going to falter, and obviously there’s going to be high crime. So when we divest from these groups, yet then say that they’re not committed to rebuilding their neighborhoods, I think that’s not really looking at this issue from a very fair perspective. I want people to recognize that redlining has been a practice for a really long time. Housing discrimination is not something that’s new. Fair housing means that every person, regardless of who they are and what their background is, deserves to live in a thriving and vibrant community.

Another issue, especially here in New Orleans, is gentrification and short-term rentals (like Airbnb). Those are ruining the fabric of our communities as well. I urge people to do more research and know that by voting we have an opportunity to end these types of heinous things that are happening in our communities. 

Throughout the interview, you’ve referenced your strong organizing background and the social justice lens that informs your work. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like that background helps you to be able to tell stories and use the angle of the story to connect with individual audience members. Is that right?

Exactly, and that’s also why it’s important for me to keep up with what other departments within our organization are doing. That way, I can keep our supporters informed and updated. For example, if supporters care about housing through a public policy lens, then I can talk to them about what our Policy and Communications team is doing. Or if they care about volunteering, I can talk to them about what Education and Outreach is doing. It’s something that I try to be “in the know” about.

Civil Rights Organizations File Federal Lawsuit Against Bank of America Alleging Housing Discrimination in New Orleans and Baton Rouge

Posted on 27. Jun, 2018 by

WASHINGTON, D.C. and NEW ORLEANS, LA — Today, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC), 18 fair housing organizations, and two homeowners in Maryland filed a federal Fair Housing Act lawsuit against Bank of America, N.A., Bank of America Corp., and Safeguard Properties Management, LLC (“Bank of America/ Safeguard”). The lawsuit alleges Defendants intentionally failed to provide routine exterior maintenance and marketing at Bank of America-owned homes in working- and middle-class African-American and Latino neighborhoods in 37 metropolitan areas, while they consistently maintained similar bank-owned homes in comparable white neighborhoods.

The data presented in the federal lawsuit, which is supported by substantial photographic evidence, shows a glaring pattern of discriminatory conduct by Bank of America/Safeguard. More than 35,000 photos document the relevant conditions of the more than 1,600 Bank of America-owned homes. In neighborhoods of color, Plaintiffs found evidence of poor maintenance such as wildly overgrown grass and weeds, unsecured doors and windows, damaged steps and handrails, accumulated trash and debris, unsecured pools, graffiti, and even dead animals decaying in yards. 

In New Orleans, Plaintiffs investigated 33 Bank of America-owned homes and found that 59% of properties in neighborhoods of color had 10 or more marketing or maintenance deficiencies, while none of the REO properties in white neighborhoods had 10 or more marketing or maintenance deficiencies. 77% of properties in neighborhoods of color also had substantial amounts of trash or debris, while only 27% of properties in predominantly white neighborhoods had the same problem.

The Bank of America-owned properties in Baton Rouge followed a similar pattern: 50% of properties in neighborhoods of color had 10 or more marketing or maintenance deficiencies, while only 13% of the REO properties in white neighborhoods had 10 or more marketing or maintenance deficiencies. Additionally, 61% of the properties in neighborhoods of color had substantial amounts of trash or debris on the premises, while only 13% of the REO properties in predominantly white neighborhoods had the same problem. 


The lawsuit is the result of a multi-year investigation undertaken by NFHA, GNOFHAC, and its other fair housing agency partners. In June 2009, NFHA notified Bank of America of maintenance problems that appeared to violate the Fair Housing Act. NFHA met with Bank of America officials for more than a year and offered recommendations to ensure proper treatment of its homes in communities of color. However, after seeing no improvement in routine exterior maintenance of Bank of America-owned homes in communities of color, NFHA began a multi-year, multi-city systemic investigation. “Bank of America was put on notice multiple times since 2009, including the filing of a HUD housing discrimination complaint against it and publication of three reports documenting the nationwide problem of poor maintenance of bank-owned homes in communities of color,” said Lisa Rice, President and CEO of NFHA.

“Bank of America has shown that it can adequately maintain real estate in the white communities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, so it is only fair that homes in African American communities in those cities are maintained just as well,” said Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. “No one deserves to live next to an unsafe, unsightly structure, especially when its owner is a multi-national corporation that refuses to do simple maintenance.”

The full complaint is available here and here. The map of all cities included in the investigation and selected photos of the properties is available here. The plaintiffs are represented by Brown, Goldsten & Levy, LLP. 

Pride Month and Housing (In)Justice

Posted on 25. Jun, 2018 by

https://www.tripsavvy.com/new-orleans-gay-pride-1417823

June is Pride Month, and as we look at how far LGBTQ+ communities have come in recent years, it’s important to recognize that many in those communities still experience discrimination and injustice. One instance is housing injustice, specifically for transgender and gender nonbinary people. Currently, transgender and nonbinary individuals–those who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth–face all sorts of hurdles both subtle and overt when seeking housing.

For many trans and nonbinary people, housing discrimination can occur as early as the application process. People who use names and/or genders different than those on their government-issued IDs may be flagged as suspicious by landlords. The significant costs and legal hurdles people face when seeking name or gender changes on documents leave low-income transgender people most vulnerable to discrimination. Discrimination of all sorts against LGBTQ+ individuals plagues the job market as well, leaving many trans individuals especially caught in a cycle of being unable to secure stable housing or jobs. The National Center for Transgender Equality reveals that one in five transgender or nonbinary individuals has faced housing insecurity. Additionally, many trans people experience harassment, including sexual harassment, by neighbors and/or landlords.

Like other forms of identity-based discrimination, the housing injustice that trans and nonbinary people face is often insidious. Landlords cover their tracks with excuses about homes no longer being available or by simply not responding to LGBTQ+ applicants. An Urban Institute study conducted in Washington, D.C. found that landlords treated transgender applicants significantly differently from cisgender applicants, whether or not the clients revealed themselves as trans. This means that landlords were making assumptions about the identities of trans individuals based on their ability to “pass” as cisgender or not.

Though discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not explicitly outlawed under the Fair Housing Act, sex discrimination is illegal and courts have begun recognizing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity as a type of sex discrimination because it punishes people for not conforming with sex stereotypes (including in a landmark Colorado case that found a landlord barring a trans woman and her partner from renting his property to be illegal housing discrimination). HUD has also in recent years made clear that discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in any federally funded housing is illegal, with regulations released in 2012 and 2016. Still, the lack of strict federal or state protections against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination allows landlords and private housing providers to get away with clearly inequitable treatment. And recently, the Trump administration has begun delaying or rescinding many key civil rights regulations, leaving advocates worried about the future of federal protections for LGBTQ+ people. One prominent example is the 2016 regulation that requires federally-funded shelters to let residents stay in shelters that match their gender identity.

While some states and municipalities have taken matters into their own hands and passed progressive legislation to protect trans community members, Louisiana unfortunately has not. While there are  anti-discrimination ordinances that protect trans and nonbinary people in New Orleans and Shreveport, there is no statewide protection in place to shield the rest of Louisiana’s trans community from transphobia and discrimination. Of course, the intersections of identity mean that low-income, trans people of color and trans youth are especially at risk of being misgendered, harassed, or turned away entirely.

Whether you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community or an ally, there are things we all can do to ensure that all Louisianans have fair access to a place to live. Become a mystery shopper  for GNOFHAC, sign up for action alerts, or donate to support fair housing work across Louisiana. If you or a loved one have experienced discrimination, contact GNOFHAC at (877) 445-2100 or by email at info@gnofairhousing.org. Help is free and confidential.

 

Welcome our 2018 Summer Interns and Law Clerks!

Posted on 13. Jun, 2018 by

 

Madeline Aruffo is a third-year law student at Tulane University School of Law. Prior to law school, Madeline attended Boston University, and double majored in philosophy and psychology. She has a passion for housing equality and public interest law, and loves living in New Orleans. 

 

 

Cameron Bertron is the president of her second-year class at Tulane University Law School and serves on the executive board of the Entertainment and Art Law Society.  She grew up in North Florida and worked in film production in New York City before attending law school. Bertron earned her BFA from Florida State University.

 

 

   

Christopher Kerrigan is a second-year law student at Loyola New Orleans College of Law. Mr. Kerrigan previously served as a City Councilmember in Eureka, California from 2000-2008. Mr. Kerrigan has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Humboldt State University and and Masters of Science in Political Psychology from Queen’s University Belfast. He also enjoys playing tennis.

 

 

Maya Newman is an undergraduate at Tulane University, majoring in Sociology and Social Policy and minoring in Public Health. She became passionate about fair housing policy as an intern at the New Orleans Mission, where she assisted formerly homeless people with their housing searches. Maya is excited to promote the right to safe, affordable, and fair housing for all in Louisiana. 

 

 

Aviv Rau is a senior at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she studies Sociology and American Studies. Outside of the classroom, Aviv is engaged with Connecticut’s labor rights movement and co-hosts a podcast called Unwind the Line. An Atlanta native, Aviv is excited to spend the summer in New Orleans interning with GNOFHAC’s Education and Outreach department. 

 

 

Patrick Wroe, originally from Austin, Texas, is interning this summer with GNOFHAC through the Leadership in Educational Equity Summer Fellowship, in partnership with Teach for America. After graduating from Tulane University with a degree in finance, he joined Arthur Ashe Charter School as a 7th grade Special Education teacher and spent the past two years in the classroom ensuring his students received quality education. Patrick is excited to join GNOFHAC this summer and support the policy and advocacy work on fair housing issues throughout Louisiana.

 

Best Friends Day: Fair Housing and Assistance Animals

Posted on 08. Jun, 2018 by

June 8th is National Best Friends Day. For many, their best friend is their pet; for some, their furry friend isn’t just a pet, but an animal that provides necessary assistance or service they need due to a disability. Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are required to make reasonable and necessary accommodations to people with disabilities, including allowing a service or assistance animal. 

An assistance animal is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. For example, an assistance animal could be a cat that alleviates the symptoms of depression or anxiety. Any animal can be an assistance animal (as long as it it necessary and reasonable) and a housing provider must accept a letter from a doctor, psychiatrist, social worker, or someone familiar with the disability as proof of the need for an assistance animal.

A service animal is a dog or pony that is trained to do work or perform tasks for someone with a disability. For example, a service animal could be a guide dog, or a dog that can detect blood sugar changes in a person with diabetes and warn them if their blood sugar gets too high or too low. If the need for a service animal is not obvious, a housing provider may ask: (1) is this a service animal that is required because of a disability? and (2) what work or tasks has the animal been trained to perform?

Housing providers cannot charge a pet fee or pet deposit, or enforce breed or size restrictions, for a service or assistance animal. If your housing provide has denied your request for an accommodation due to a disability, such as allowing you to have an assistance or service animal, call the GNO Fair Housing Action Center at 877-445-2100.

Hurricane Season and the History of Unequal Disaster Risk

Posted on 04. Jun, 2018 by

The Atlantic Hurricane season officially started on June 1. The Data Center’s recent report, Rigging the Real Estate Market: Segregation, Inequality, and Disaster Risk, reminds us that disasters don’t affect everyone equally. The report highlights some of the history that led to an unfair disaster risk burden on people of lower-income and people of color in New Orleans.

Early in New Orleans’ history, wealthy New Orleanians were able to buy the land above sea level, while lower income residents, including free people of color, settled on lower ground. This made it so the homes of the white and wealthy were less susceptible to flooding.

Fast-forward to the levees failing after Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, and while the storm displaced many people across the city, African American residents were more likely to be impacted by flooding than other groups: 68 percent of African Americans faced displacement, compared to 43 percent of whites.

The Road Home recovery program that awarded homeowners money to return and rebuild ultimately enforced patterns of segregation and inequality by giving larger monetary amounts to homeowners in predominantly white neighborhoods than homeowners in predominately African American neighborhoods based on either the home’s pre-storm value or the cost to rebuild, whichever was the lesser amount.

As a result, homeowners in segregated white neighborhoods, which had higher pre-storm values, received higher grant awards than homeowners in predominantly African American neighborhoods, who were frequently awarded the lower pre-storm value of the home. This was true even when the homes were the same size and age, and the damage was similar,” the report states. GNOFHAC filed a lawsuit against HUD and the State of Louisiana and reached a $62 million settlement in 2011.

A 2015 Louisiana State University report found that 70 percent of long-term white residents were able to return to New Orleans within one year, whereas only 42 percent of long-term black residents made it back in the same time period.

The faulty Road Home program was just part of the reason so many African American residents did not return to rebuild. Low-income and African American homeowners often did not know their homes were located in a floodplain because of outdated maps used by mortgage banks and insurance companies. For the working-class families that did have flood insurance, few had enough to cover a total loss of their home.

If you’re in the process of preparing for this year’s hurricane season, and you don’t have your own transportation to leave during a mandatory evacuation, go to your closest “evacuspot” to use City-assisted evacuation. Watch this video to find out more:

Advocates Praise Veto of Inclusionary Zoning Preemption Bill, Look Forward to Local Action

Posted on 29. May, 2018 by

Baton Rouge—On Saturday, Governor John Bel Edwards vetoed SB 462, a bill that would have banned cities and parishes from using zoning rules to create housing that is affordable to the average worker. Housing advocates, the City of New Orleans, the City of Baton Rouge, and the Louisiana Municipal Association, among others, all opposed the bill.

While Sen. Danny Martiny sponsored SB 462 in this year’s legislative session, Sen. Conrad Appel carried identical legislation in 2017 that also failed. In the Greater New Orleans area, where both senators are from, high housing prices are pushing many working families out to the suburbs. A family must make $49,360–significantly more than the median household income of $37,000–to afford a modest three-bedroom apartment in the metro area.

In over 800 cities across the country, municipalities use inclusionary zoning policies—which SB 462 would have banned—to ensure workers can continue to live close to their jobs. The policies ensure that a percentage of new housing units are priced to be available to the average worker and offer real estate developers economic incentives in return. In Louisiana, such a policy would benefit hospitality workers, firefighters, teachers, and others who all make average salaries of below $40,000 per year. 

In his veto message, the Governor encouraged local governments to take advantage of the policy and implement inclusionary zoning policies in the near future. In 2017, the City of New Orleans began to seriously consider inclusionary zoning, known locally as the Smart Housing Mix policy. Mayor Cantrell and a number of Councilmembers committed their support for the Smart Housing Mix during the campaign season. Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s transition plan also suggested the City-Parish explore the policy. 

Throughout the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions, a single real estate developer group led the charge to strip inclusionary zoning powers away from local governments. During committee hearings, housing advocates pointed out that real estate developers have benefited from millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded incentives, but continue to stand in staunch opposition to local solutions like the Smart Housing Mix. 

“We’re grateful to the Governor for choosing the working families who make our cities run over wealthy real estate developers,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC). “Now we look forward to working with local officials to pass and implement the Smart Housing Mix policy so that workers can continue to live and thrive in our cities,” she continued. 

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The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) is a statewide, private nonprofit civil rights organization with offices in New Orleans. GNOFHAC is dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination and furthering equal housing opportunities through education, outreach, advocacy, and enforcement of fair housing laws across Louisiana. The activities described in this release were privately funded. 

Legislature Passes New Law Penalizing Bad Landlords and Assisting Renters in Recovering Security Deposits

Posted on 14. May, 2018 by

Baton Rouge—Last Friday, Senate Bill 466 cleared its last legislative hurdle when it passed the Louisiana House. SB 466 finally provides a real chance of recovering security deposits from negligent landlords to the 1.5 million Louisianans who rent. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) led the advocacy efforts for this change because most renters never expect to see their deposit again, even when they do everything right. Under current law, landlords only face a slap on the wrist for unlawfully keeping deposits.

During the bill’s first hearing, LSU law student Jourdan Curet explained that when the management began to let her Baton Rouge townhome fall into disrepair, she gave notice and asked for her security deposit back after moving. Her unit was still in good condition when she left, but after multiple requests—including with the help of her mother’s law firm—she had still not seen a dollar of her $500 deposit. “Even if I took my landlord to small claims court and won, I’m sure he’d continue keeping deposits because most students don’t have the knowledge, time, or resources to file in small claims and the penalty was negligible for him either way,” said Curet. “I know I have access to more resources than most renters, so I’m elated that we’ve finally created some fairness in this part of the law,” she continued.

Photo: Jourdan Curet posing with a fake check for what she would have spent her deposit it on, if it had been returned.

SB 466, carried by Sen. Ed Price of Gonzales, increases the penalty to bring it into line with national standards. When the new law goes into effect on August 1, 2018, renters who win their case can recover three times as much as typically awarded under current law. For a Louisiana renter who spends roughly $800 on a security deposit, the amount recovered from a negligent landlord would increase to $2,400.

“A higher penalty might have created some incentive for my landlord to return my deposit,” said Aimee Struble, a self-employed house painter in New Orleans. “Instead, it took being lucky enough to find pro-bono counsel and two years to get to court to finally recover any damages.” Struble was renting from a large real estate developer and had to leave after a roof leak and mold damaged most of her belongings.

Photo: Aimee Struble posing with a fake check for what she would have spent her deposit it on, if it had been returned.

This new law is the culmination of four years of work at the Legislature, starting with a 2014 Senate resolution that acknowledged renters in Louisiana have few rights and called for a comparison of state landlord-tenant law to national standards.

Further study found that Louisiana security deposit law had not been updated since 1985 and was notably out of step with surrounding states. After initial opposition by landlord lobbying groups in 2017 and during the 2018 legislative session, GNOFHAC, legal experts, and landlord groups agreed to increase penalties for landlords who do not follow the law. The final bill passed out of committees in both houses with the unanimous support of lawmakers.

“Loyola Law Clinic routinely represents low-income renters whose landlords have stolen their security deposits. Even after winning a lawsuit, the most renters usually receive back under the old law is the stolen deposit. For bad actors, that was no disincentive. Low-income people cannot easily access attorneys or the courts. Without deposit funds, there is a struggle to secure new housing. The new law is a step in the right direction for Louisiana renters and for our communities,” said Davida Finger, a Loyola University College of Law professor who helped craft the reforms in the bill.

“Anyone who has rented in Louisiana knows the law is stacked against you. As families across the state see increases in college tuition, health insurance, and other expenses, we’re grateful to see the state offer this measure of economic relief to Louisiana’s 1.5 million renters,” said Cashauna Hill, executive director of GNOFHAC. The results of GNOFHAC’s own survey showed that most renters would have used their deposits for their next apartment or to pay off bills, had the deposits been returned.

 

The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) is a statewide, private nonprofit civil rights organization with offices in New Orleans. GNOFHAC is dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination and furthering equal housing opportunities through education, outreach, advocacy, and enforcement of fair housing laws across Louisiana. The activities described in this release were privately funded. 

How you can get involved

Posted on 30. Apr, 2018 by

Today is the last day of Fair Housing Month, but our work for fair housing continues throughout the year. Here’s how you can get involved and continue to fight discrimination and segregation across Louisiana:

  1. Donate to GNOFHAC on Give NOLA Day 

    On Tuesday, May 1st, every dollar donated to New Orleans non-profits through givenola.org will be boosted by extra funds from the Give NOLA Lagniappe Fund. The goal of Give NOLA Day is to inspire the community to come together to support the work of local nonprofit organizations. GNOFHAC is the only full-service fair housing center in Louisiana, and your donation will fight for those who’ve been harassed, turned down or evicted because of who they are. Schedule your donation now!

  2. Sign-up for action alerts

    Our action page can help you stay engaged on all the issues that matter to you.  Please use this page to find and track legislation, look up your lawmaker, register to vote, and access tools you need to build a more inclusive community. Subscribe to our email list to stay up-to-date on GNOFHAC policy initiatives and community events.

  3. Become a tester

    Testers, also known as “mystery shoppers,” are people in the community who take on the role of a perspective homeowner or renter to help fair housing centers investigate discrimination. Testing involves using people with similar profiles, but who differ in one protected characteristic, such as race or family status. Testers need a flexible schedule and they are provided with a small stipend. 

  4. Invite GNOFHAC to do a fair housing training at your organization or school

    GNOFHAC provides trainings tailored to the needs of your organization. Participants of these trainings include landlords, real estate agents, management staff, mental health service providers, tenants, neighborhood associations, and many more. We also conduct fair housing workshops for students in grades K-8. Learn more about The Fair Housing Five and the Haunted House, GNOFHAC’s original children’s book that tells the story of kids who take action in their neighborhood in response to a landlord who is discriminating. It is designed to initiate conversations between parents, caregivers, teachers and children about housing discrimination, systemic inequality, and the important role that we all have in ending both.