BATON ROUGE, La. (Legal Newsline) – The Louisiana floods can leave homeowners reeling, but there is another demographic that gets hit, often even harder - renters.
Tenants may feel they are left at the mercy of the landlords in the aftermath, but they actually have numerous rights under the law. The issue is tenants typically do not have the money to file a lawsuit if their landlord doesn't restore their living space or treats them unfairly.
“A lot of tenants need protection from landlords who are trying to get a little extra income,” attorney Peter Russell of McBride and Russell Law Firm told Legal Newsline.
Although flood insurance is required in most parts of the state, tenants won't receive any insurance checks for damage to their living spaces, and they can be left vulnerable. What they may not realize is tenants' rights remain even after natural disasters
Russell said what's even more common is a landlord pocketing the insurance money, but telling the tenant the space is still “livable,” meaning there's still a roof and four walls. There may be mold forming, old drywall may have been removed leaving wire exposed and the tenant may be left in unsanitary conditions.
The landlord may also threaten to sue the tenant if the tenant leaves for violating the rental agreement.
Tenants are entitled to having the space returned to the condition it was in prior to the flooding, but typically they don't have the money to sue their landlord for not following the law, Russell said.
“The courts are very, very friendly to plaintiffs who are being wronged by their landlord,” Russell said.
Tenant-landlord cases can be resolved fairly quickly, he said.
Under Louisiana law, both the tenant and the landlord have responsibilities. The tenant must maintain the property in the original condition, minus wear and tear, pay the rent on-time every month and pay for any damage caused by friends/family they bring into the space.
The landlord must repair any issues such as the roof or air conditioner and is responsible for keeping the peace. If the landlord has two properties and one tenant is loud and the other complains, the landlord needs to either get the loud tenant to be quiet or evict him.
If a case is filed by a tenant and the landlord consults with an attorney, most attorneys will ask if the tenant has met his obligations. If the tenant has met the obligations, the attorney will tell the landlord it will likely cost more to hire an attorney than to make the repairs and he will be forced to make the repairs anyway, Russell said.
Waiting for insurance is not a reasonable excuse under the law either. The landlord must also pay costs if the tenant has to go live somewhere else.
Despite the issues that may arise, typically there are not a lot of tenants filing cases against landlords after a natural disaster just because the tenant doesn't have the money for an attorney, he said. Attorneys aren't chasing after these cases either since they are not usually “big money” cases.