LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Many people from Southwest Louisiana are now returning to the area to find their homes are no longer there. Some are now facing eviction from their apartments.
KPLC has received many emails and messages from viewers wondering why they are getting evicted and if it’s legal.
Renters have certain rights and landlords have certain rights - all spelled out in the Louisiana Civil Code.
But, like the current landscape of the region, what’s going on with lease terminations and evictions in Southwest Louisiana can be confusing and messy.
“It became clear right away that there is a mass of confusion out there about the different scenarios under Louisiana law,” local attorney Carla Sigler said. “We are now in the complication of COVID and a hurricane. So, we have two situations that are emergencies that have compounded issues that are being faced by both sides.”
Sigler says the COVID-19 situation has led to the biggest eviction protection ever seen in landlord/tenant law.
Under federal law, no evictions can take place due to COVID-19 for public health reasons. But Hurricane Laura causing mass destruction changes things.
“There are landlords that are terrified that somebody is going to get injured on their property and the property may look like one apartment unit is damaged and the whole thing has been declared a total loss,” Sigler said. “If that is the case, there are liability issues why they cannot allow people to return.”
“You cannot safely allow people to go back in,” Sigler said. “You just can’t. Where the communication problem is occurring - and I’m seeing this every day - it’s because people are not aware of the entire property’s scenario. There is a difference from what we see and call destruction and what an insurance company is going to call destruction and a total loss.”
“From the landlord’s perspective, a lot of them are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do and saying ‘I’m sorry this is a total loss.’ Under that, when the lease premises is destroyed, under the operation of law, your lease ends. It’s called Act of God.”
An Act of God, also called “force majeure,” is a common clause in contracts or leases that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties takes place.
Through no fault of that landlord, the property you were leasing is destroyed thanks to Hurricane Laura.
But it’s like anything. The situation is going to depend on your own facts and circumstances. There’s no one blanket rule for anybody.
“Landlords who have had really serious destruction need to have procedures in place so the tenants can come view what they have and retrieve it,” Sigler said. “That’s what supposed to happen under the law. Yes, there are a few cases and I hope they are isolated where some have said ‘Come get it. It’s on the side of the road.’ I don’t think that’s in the majority.”
Sigler says there will be situations where tenants can return to the property once repairs are finished. But tenants might be displaced for a certain amount of time because they won’t be able to be on the premises while repairs are being made. That would be a liability issue.
Sometimes the damage might not be visible. An apartment might look ok, but the entire apartment complex may have other issues, thanks to wind damage or internal damage.
Sigler says, if you are confused by this, ask your landlord for specifics.
But the important thing right now for both parties is to not assume the worst of each other.
“You suffered a great loss,” Sigler said. “It’s important not to forget that the landlord’s suffered a loss, too. We’ve all been damaged by the storm. The beauty of Southwest Louisiana is we come together and we fix it together and that’s what we’re going to do.”
If you can’t get to your residence to get your belongings or salvage items, Sigler recommends having someone you trust to get your stuff, or communicate with your landlord to extend the time to make arrangements to get your things. Most landlords are aware that people have sentimental items in the home and are willing to work with the tenant.
But working together and communicating are very important during this time. If these things aren’t working for you, she suggests reaching out to an attorney for guidance.
If you need legal advice, there is a free disaster-related legal service for Hurricane Laura victims in Calcasieu Parish.
· Lake Charles: SWLA Center for Health Services, 2000 Opelousas Street.
· Sulphur: Credit Services, 1918 Maplewood Drive, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
· Phone: 337-476-8299, leave your name and a message.