for rent, stock

Fair housing advocates feared a tsunami of eviction requests would hit the courts as soon as the governor lifted his coronavirus moratorium on eviction proceedings. But Baton Rouge City Court officials and most justices of the peace in East Baton Rouge Parish say they haven't seen it yet.

Many landlords who tried this week to start proceedings to oust tenants who fell behind in their rent during the lockdown were turned away because they didn't have notarized paperwork proving their rental properties didn't fall under provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

That federal stimulus package protected certain renters from eviction until July 25, like those who live in federally subsidized housing or whose landlords received financed through federally subsidized mortgages 

Julia Jack, staff attorney in the Baton Rouge area for Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, considers that a small win in their push for measures that would help stave off an impending housing crisis they're worried would unfold once widespread evictions are allowed to resume. 

"I still think there's a possibility of the tsunami coming but in a different form," Jack said.

There were less than 20 eviction requests filed in Baton Rouge City Court within the first two days after the moratorium ended June 12. 

Elzie Alford, clerk of court and judicial administrator for City Court, said some landlords haven't filed because they don't have the affidavit proving they aren't federally subsidized. The same was true for some of the parish's justices of the peace, who handle eviction requests for areas outside Baton Rouge city limits.

Brooke Peay, whose district mostly encompasses Zachary, said she hasn't been that busy since the moratorium lifted. 

"Had a lot of requests during the moratorium period, but I had to inform them about the CARES Act which put an end to a lot of them," she said. 

The situation was much different elsewhere. Steven Sanders serves as justice of the peace for the southeast corner of the parish. He said on Monday, the first day landlords were allowed to resume eviction requests, he was slammed with more than 100. 

But things dropped off significantly Tuesday and Wednesday, he said. 

"There isn't a lot of federally subsidized housing in my area," Sanders said. "The landlords that filed requests with me had tenants who hadn't paid anything in three to four months. Most of the ones have really been trying to work with tenants if they've at least paid something during the moratorium."  

Looking ahead, Jack fears landlords who can't evict tenants might end up shutting off utilities at their rental properties. Or they'll start upping their monthly rent rates, she added. 

"A lot of people are looking for apartments right now," she said. "It's beneficial to a landlord if a tenant is behind on their to rent to evict them and bring in new people at a higher rate."

Southeast Louisiana Legal Services is offering free legal service for low-income people facing coronavirus-related issues, including tenant's rights, unemployment benefits and foreclosure prevention through its Legal Aid Hotline at 1-844-244-7871.     


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com