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Loyola law students defend rights of renters in Louisiana

Loyola press release - May 27, 2014

Law students in the Community Justice section of the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law have brought much-needed attention to issues facing thousands of low-income families in Louisiana through their work on behalf of tenants and by working on proposed legislation to help protect tenants’ rights.

During the spring semester, students in the clinic contributed to proposed legislation that, if passed, would change landlord-tenant laws in Louisiana to offer increased tenant protections.

The students’ research and proposals, combined with other recommendations, were presented as Senate Bill 298, introduced by state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb. The bill would significantly update Louisiana’s landlord-tenant laws, bringing the state more in line with national best practices for protecting tenants’ rights. Through Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 131, the Louisiana Legislature requested that the Louisiana State Law Institute study and make recommendations regarding laws applicable to the rights of landlords and residential tenants.

The clinic’s work on Senate Bill 298 stems from the cases handled by the students in the clinic in which tenants have experienced difficulty in recovering their security deposits upon moving out from substandard rental units. The security deposit amount withheld can be as high as a full month’s rent. Loss of a security deposit often means a delay or, even worse, a complete barrier to obtaining a new residence after moving out, leaving low-income tenants vulnerable to homelessness.

Currently, the law allows landlords to give tenants just five days’ notice and 24 hours to leave after a court issues a judgment of eviction. The proposed legislation would increase that notice period to 30 days and give tenants three to five days to leave after a court order. In addition, under current law, a tenant who violates the terms of the lease has no opportunity to remedy the violation before being evicted. The proposed legislation would give the tenant 14 days to cure the violation unless it is the second time such non-compliance has occurred within a specified time period.

“If passed, this legislation would have a huge impact on helping our clients who struggle relentlessly and often have to litigate to get their security deposit funds returned. It would also help level the playing field for both landlord and tenant,” said alumna Emma Kingsdorf, J.D. ’14, who worked in the clinic this past year as a student practitioner in the Community Justice section.

The Community Justice section worked with the Louisiana Housing Alliance, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights under the Law and the Tulane University Law School Public Law Center in researching and drafting the proposed language for the bill.

According to Davida Finger, J.D., associate clinical professor who teaches the Community Justice section, substandard housing is an urgent problem in the Greater New Orleans area. With more than 80,000 renter-occupied units and a poverty rate of 29 percent, nearly double the national poverty rate, low-income renters are especially vulnerable when it comes to habitability issues.

“We recently saw a single mother of five children come into our clinic. Her kids ranged in age from 6 months to 12 years. She was quickly evicted from her home and won her security deposit back only after filing a lawsuit and becoming homeless due to the wrongful withholding of that deposit,” Finger said. “Unfortunately, her story is not unique.”