The historic Lower Pontalba Building’s residential tenants, left reeling after a state board voted in November to raise their rents by as much as 92 percent by 2017, scored at least a temporary victory Monday when that board agreed to delay the rent hikes.
Instead of relying on an earlier study of market rates that the French Market Corp. originally commissioned for the separate, city-owned Upper Pontalba Building, the Louisiana State Museum board’s Irby Committee will commission a new study specifically for the state-owned Lower Pontalba Building.
That appeased some residents who said the board should not have applied the Upper Pontalba study to its state-owned counterpart because the former, in their view, is in considerably better shape than its sister.
Both buildings overlook Jackson Square; the Lower Pontalba is on St. Ann Street, while the Upper Pontalba is on St. Peter Street. Both four-story, block-long buildings were erected in the late 1840s.
The Irby Committee’s move will stall the rent hikes, which were slated to come in phases over two years and start in 2016. While the new study is underway, tenants will continue to pay their regular rent under monthly leases.
If the completed study also recommends higher rents and the museum board votes to implement them, residents will be given annual leases reflecting the increases and perhaps additional demands for the extra money not recouped while the study is underway. Board member Charles “Randy” Davis said those plans are not definite.
The French Market Corp., the entity that manages the Upper Pontalba for the city, commissioned rent studies in 2011 and in January 2015. Both led to rent increases.
The 2011 study prompted increases in the range of 20 to 40 percent, generating an additional $270,400 a year at full capacity. It also angered residents, some of whom sued the city. The 2015 study led to a more modest hike and is expected to generate less than $100,000 in extra revenue annually, French Market Executive Director Jon Smith said.
The Irby Committee, which manages the Lower Pontalba for the State Museum, based its November decision to raise rents on the French Market’s 2015 analysis, which listed the average comparable French Quarter rental rate at between $1.40 and $2.00 a square foot.
The result was rent increases ranging from 23 percent to 92 percent, spread over two years — half in 2016 and the remainder in 2017.
That outraged Lower Pontalba residents, who on Monday took their protest to the committee’s meeting. Armed with pictures of peeling paint and bubbling plaster and horror stories of rodent infestations they said management has ignored for years, they berated the board for a rent increase they called punitive and unjustified.
Louis Sahuc, who has lived in the building for 26 years and whose $1,850 monthly rent was scheduled to rise by 92 percent to $3,555 in 2017, said living over Jackson Square isn’t as swanky as some might think.
“It’s not easy living here, and despite what the board thinks, this is not Central Park West or Fifth Avenue in New York City, or Paris at Place des Vosges. Not even close,” he wrote in a statement.
Most of the building’s residents, he added, stay there on weekends or when they are in the city. He and only three or four others live there full time, he said.
Haydee Mackey, another full-time resident whose $1,950 rent would have risen 71 percent by 2017, described subpar conditions, particularly when compared with the Upper Pontalba, which was extensively renovated several years ago and which she and others said has better amenities and a lower monthly maintenance fee.
That fee is charged in addition to rent and at its highest is $290.
Board member Robert Barnett said the board would take up residents’ claims of mismanagement at a later date.
He and other members voted unanimously for the delay but refused to reconsider the idea of some rent hikes.
The higher rents would provide needed revenue at a time when state funding for the multiple-building museum system is the lowest it’s been in a dozen years, museum Director Mark Tullos said.
Committee member Kevin Kelly disputed claims that the old study is not applicable to the Lower Pontalba Building. A new study would likely spark a similar boost, if not a higher one, he said.
Member Janet Haedicke disputed claims the board is unsympathetic to residents’ plight. What’s more, she said, the fact that mostly well-to-do tenants in a building overlooking a nationally known historic landmark are loudly complaining about higher rent rubs some people the wrong way.
“You are not doing yourself a service, there,” she said.
Among the residents facing higher rents are business owners, real estate investors and Constantine Georges, a lawyer, co-owner of Dat Dog LLC and brother of John Georges, owner of The New Orleans Advocate. Constantine Georges’ rent was scheduled to jump by 79 percent, to $3,572 monthly.
|WOULD-BE RENT INCREASES FOR LOWER PONTALBA BUILDING|
The following monthly rent prices, which outraged tenants, were proposed based on an initial study. A new study will be conducted, at residents' request.
|Tenants||Address||2015 rent||2016 rent||2017 rent||Percent change|
|Stephen Rue, Doug Melancon||503 St. Ann, 3rd floor||$2,375||$3,165||$3,954||66%|
|Louellen and Darryl Berger||509 St. Ann||$2,200||$2,475||$2,749||25%|
|Jack and Pat Holden||511 St. Ann, 2nd floor||$1,850||$2,698||$3,547||92%|
|Ricky and Lynna Caples||511 St. Ann, 3rd floor||$2,370||$2,877||$3,384||43%|
|Louis Sahuc||515 St. Ann, 2nd floor||$1,850||$2,702||$3,555||92%|
|Charles and Kathy Cole||515 St. Ann, 3rd floor||$2,000||$2,692||$3,384||69%|
|Hugh Lambert, Ben Skillman||519 St. Ann, 2nd floor||$2,000||$2,790||$3,580||79%|
|Jim Brown III||519 St. Ann, 3rd floor||$2,755||$3,070||$3,384||23%|
|Constantine Georges||527 St. Ann, 2nd floor||$2,000||$2,786||$3,572||79%|
|James and Lillian Maurin||527 St. Ann, 3rd floor||$2,370||$2,877||$3,384||43%|
|Steve and Cindy Hogan||531 St. Ann, 2nd floor||$2,540||$3,072||$3,605||42%|
|Kevin and Haydee Mackey||531 St. Ann, 3rd floor||$1,950||$2,638||$3,326||71%|
|Gary and Pat Boue||535 St. Ann, 2nd floor||$2,250||$2,902||$3,555||58%|
|Michael and Krista Dumas||535 St. Ann, 3rd floor||$2,755||$3,066||$3,376||23%|
|Bill and Carolyn Oliver||539 St. Ann, 2nd floor||$2,320||$2,962||$3,605||55%|
|Donald and Beth Woolridge||539 St. Ann, 3rd floor||$2,225||$2,805||$3,384||52%|
|Carol Riddle, Ira Middleberg||541 St. Ann||$2,200||$2,475||$2,749||25%|
|Brandon and Daphne Berger||543 St. Ann, 2nd floor||$2,525||$3,588||$4,651||84%|
|Christian Creed||543 St. Ann, 3rd floor||$2,500||$3,013||$3,527||41%|
|John Morrissey||806 Chartres, 3rd floor||$2,280||$2,394||$2,509||10%|
|Carol Lewis, Anita Harris||810 Chartres, 2nd floor||$1,865||$2,312||$2,759||48%|
|Patrick McNulty||810 Chartres, 3rd floor||$1,780||$2,144||$2,509||41%|
|Gina Smith||807 Decatur, 2nd floor||$1,925||$2,365||$2,805||46%|
|John Ryan Lafaye||807 Decatur, 3rd floor||$1,650||$2,187||$2,723||65%|
|Douglas Ahlers||811 Decatur, 2nd floor||$1,925||$2,365||$2,805||46%|
|Ken and Faye LeBlanc||811 Decatur, 3rd floor||$1,780||$2,277||$2,773||56%|
|Average monthly rent||26 units||$2,163||$2,719||$3,275||51.40%|
|Note: All residents also pay a common area maintenance fee, ranging from $228-$290 per month|