Renters rights: Pay rent or be evicted

January 23, 2007
By Theresa Schmidt

If you rent sub-standard housing and you want the landlord to make repairs, there's a right way and a wrong way to handle the situation.

Brigitte Moore, her husband and four children live in rural Beauregard Parish where they've rented a house for three and a half years. Brigitte says,  "After the hurricane the house was damaged and that she's tried to get the landlord to make repairs. "The tree cracked the roof and it's leaking in."

There's one room full of mold and mildew and one time she says a raccoon poked its head inside a hole in the house. She admits,  the landlord did make repairs, but says they've been inadequate so she quit paying the rent which is $350 dollars a month. She paid part of October and nothing for November, December or January. The landlord has the responsibility to fix it.

A judge has ordered eviction which could be carried out after 24 hours, but the landlords, Mike and Tammy Felice, who live down the road, say they'll give them to the end of the month. "The judge said we could be bull nosed about it and have them out without 24 hours but, out of the kindness of our hearts, we're letting them stay until the end of January," says Tammy.

The Felices say the house was nice when they lived in it and, though the hurricane did cause some damage, say the tenants have torn it up. Says Tammy, "She had over 50 cats in there at one time, four dogs. It's bad. Compared to what it was when they moved in, it's a disastrous."  (Brigitte disputes Tammy's statement saying she never had more than ten cats in the house.)

Larry Pichon with Southwest Louisiana Legal Services says non-payment of rent is no way to handle such a situation. "You have to first put them on notice that the repairs need to be done and you need to put it in writing. And if the landlord fails to make those repairs in a reasonable time, generally 30 days, you have to make the repairs yourself and you can deduct it from your rent. And what you do, you send copies of your receipts, where you paid for the repairs to be made. But you can't just not pay your rent because you're living in sub-standard housing."

So, for now the Moores find themselves in search of a new place to live and with an uncertain future for themselves and their children.

Southwest Louisiana Legal Services has a grant to help people with legal problems still stemming from the hurricane.  For more information call 436-3308 or 1-800-256 1955 and talk to Jim Ortego to find out if you might be eligible for services.  Southwest Legal in Lake Charles is a United Way Agency and not for profit law firm with various types of grants, including a grant from the Louisiana Bar Foundation to help victims of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, either without fee or at low cost.

As well, Law Help, an organization of which Southwest Legal Services is a member, spnsors a web site with free information for the public in several areas of law including housing and disaster relief.  It's As well, the Louisiana Bar Association web site has an emergency training manual on disaster relief for layers, but the public can access it.