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‘Vacate premise’ notices for renter evacuees are not automatic mandates to move out, legal expert says

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 10:30 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2021 at 10:44 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Returning home with her family after evacuation, a resident who does not want to be named, says she was brought to tears when she saw this notice on her door.

“So, it’s like ok I come back and now I got this going on 58 where is the help at where the help at we don’t have any help,” said the resident.

In the notice, New Chateau property managers offer $300 gift cards for those who move by September 17th, saying the storm damaged the entire property so much it’s unlivable.

She says FEMA’s already denied her application. Hotel rooms are difficult to secure. And after evacuation costs for a family of six, she says she can’t take on more expenses.

“My kids I can’t afford to be homeless with my kids not at all… it’s like you want to cry but you have to stay strong and I have to stay strong for my kids that’s the most important,” she said.

Legal experts say even with a written notice, property managers and landlords cannot force tenants out right now.

“Any landlord that does skip over the legal election process or take the law to their own hands by changing the locks or putting the person’s belongings on the curb without going through the legal process can be liable for substantial damages if the tenants sue for wrongful eviction,” said Hannah Adams.

Hannah Adams is a staff attorney with the Southeast Louisiana legal services.

She says they’re answering dozens of calls a day from renters across the area with similar notices and issues.

She says these kinds of notices are only the first legal step in the process. They do not need to vacate by the written deadline.

“They can voluntarily if they want to, but they aren’t legally required to… A tenant is going to have to make a really hard decision for their family about what is healthy and safe for their family, but ultimately if the landlord wants them out, they still have to go to a judge and file an injunction,” said Adams.

She says a landlord is still entitled to make repairs, but if those repairs displace a tenant. Under the law they should not pay rent for the time they’re displaced.

She says that’s where displaced renters should also qualify for FEMA and other disaster assistance.

“Code enforcement may come out in a couple of months and deem a property unlivable but until that happens it is still up to a judge to determine whether or not a landlord is entitled to kick the tenant out,” said Adams.

Reaching out to the property managers they told us no comment and then asked us to leave the property.

Adams says it’s best for landlords and tenants to settle issues outside of court, but any renters needing help can call 844-244-7871.

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