(Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens) Credit: Michael Isaac Stein / The Lens

Evictions in New Orleans will remain suspended until at least May 18 instead of May 4, according to a court order issued by First and Second City Courts and Orleans Parish Civil District Court on Thursday.

Civil District Court will also remain closed until May 18, but hearings will be able to proceed by video conference starting tomorrow, the order said. Civil jury trials are suspended until July 1.

Two days after New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus, the two City Courts suspended all evictions until April 24. Subsequent court orders extended the moratorium to May 4. 

But on Monday, Governor John Bel Edwards announced that the state-wide stay at home order was being extended to May 16. That falls on a Saturday. May 18 is the following Monday. 

The order says that evictions will be suspended until May 18 “or when the Governor lifts the ‘stay at home order.’ “ 

Housing advocates told The Lens this week that they wanted the courts to push back their reopening dates to at least match the Governor’s order. Not only would it be unsafe to remove people from their homes during a pandemic, they argued, but the courts, attorneys, renters and advocates needed time to figure out how to ensure people aren’t evicted if they’re protected under the new federal CARES Act.

The CARES Act bans evictions at properties that have a federally-backed mortgage, or have participated in other federal programs such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credits and the Section 8 housing voucher program. 

Owners of those properties can’t post an eviction notice until July 25, according to the law, and they have to give tenants thirty days notice to vacate before filing for an eviction on those properties. That means that evictions for CARES Act-covered properties are effectively prohibited until August 24.

In a letter to the courts last week, a broad coalition of 36 local groups argued that all evictions at any property should be suspended until August 24 in order to avoid the administrative effort it would take to screen properties for coverage under the CARES Act. And it would protect renters going through eviction proceedings, many of whom don’t have lawyers or may not have any way to prove their landlord is covered by the federal law. 

The courts have still not responded to questions from The Lens on how they plan to ensure they don’t process any illegal evictions once they reopen.

It’s unclear if other hearings, aside from evictions, will restart in the City Courts. The court order says that “litigants scheduled to appear in First City Court and Second City Court after

May 1, 2020 will be contacted by the Section about their proceeding.”

Michael Isaac Stein

Michael Isaac Stein covers New Orleans' cultural economy and local government for The Lens. Before joining the staff, he freelanced for The Lens as well as The Intercept, CityLab, The New Republic, and...