New Orleans’ First and Second City Courts, which handle the majority of the city’s evictions, won’t start proceedings for newly filed eviction cases until July 6, according to courts spokesman Walt Pierce.
The courts will, however, start eviction proceedings on Monday for the backlog of evictions filed before the court suspended them on March 13. That order put 106 eviction cases on hold that were already scheduled between March 13 and March 30.
Residential evictions have remained on hold under both local court orders and a statewide moratorium signed by Governor John Bel Edwards, put in place due to coronavirus restrictions that stopped the economy in its tracks and put record breaking numbers of Louisiana residents out of work.
Those orders expired on June 15, allowing landlords to file new evictions for the first time in months. Technically, the court could have started eviction proceedings last Friday — three days after the first new filing — according to Hannah Adams, a housing attorney with Southeastern Louisiana Law Services. But the court isn’t scheduling those cases until July 6.
“Why that is happening, I don’t know,” Adams told The Lens. “We’re certainly very grateful. I imagine they’ve been getting pressure based on the fact that there’s been a lot of media attention and other attention related to people still waiting on unemployment checks and that sort of thing. I can’t really speak to what their motives are but I can say it will help a lot of our clients to have those extra couple weeks to try and get the money together.”
It’s not clear why the backlogged eviction hearings — filed before the moratorium — are on hold until next week.
Pierce said that First City Court Chief Judge Veronica Henry delayed the hearings “to make sure everybody got notice” of the proceedings.
As The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reported last week, First City Court — which handles evictions for properties on the east bank of New Orleans — saw a flood of new filings when it reopened last week. Austin Badon, the clerk of First City Court, told the paper that while his office usually receives roughly 25 new eviction filings a day, it received 63 new eviction filings on Tuesday alone.
Badon told The Lens that the rush has slowed down a bit. He said that as of Monday, his office had received 130 new eviction filings. That would put the eviction filing rate roughly in line with the normal rate, Badon said. However, he still said it was safe to say that more people are trying to file evictions right now than usual.
“I think it’s safe to say that,” he said. “We are still getting a lot of phone calls from people that thought we were still in the eviction moratorium. So they’re calling to find out if the moratorium is lifted because they want to proceed with an eviction. The other thing they’re calling about is the CARES act.”
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, created eviction restrictions for properties that participate in a wide variety of federal programs, including federally backed mortgages and Section 8 vouchers. The owners of such properties won’t be able to start the eviction process until July 25. But even then, the law requires that the landlords provide 30 days notice to tenants, effectively pushing back the first possible day of evictions to August 25.
Those protections don’t apply to cases that were already filed — but put on hold — prior to the enactment of the CARES Act on March 27.
New Orleans housing advocates had called on the city to put a moratorium on all evictions until August 25 to match the federal law. Most New Orleans renters were in properties covered by the law anyway, they argued, and it would save the courts the headache of having to differentiate between properties that were and were not covered by the law. Advocates said that for some tenants, it would be impossible to prove that the property participated in federal programs, puting the courts at risk of accidentally processing evictions in violation of federal law.
Instead of putting off all evictions, First and Second City Courts are requiring all landlords to submit affidavits swearing that they don’t participate in any federal programs that would prevent them from evicting tenants prior to August 25.
“I support the affidavit,” Adams said. “I think it’s a way to notify all parties that a detailed inquiry will be done to ensure that the CARES Act doesn’t apply and the eviction isn’t done in violation of federal law.”
Badon said that he’s seen many people turned away from filing an eviction after finding out they would need to submit the affidavit prior to the court hearing.
“I was at the front door personally myself having to explain it to them,” Badon said. “I had to spend some significant time with certain individuals to explain it to them. They thought they could come here and be done with it but they didn’t know about the affidavit.”
He said that he expects many of the people that turned away after finding out about the affidavit to return come August 25.
“So I’d say a lot of those are still out there and just haven’t come back in yet,” he said. “Last week, I extended hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I saw it kind of tapering off so I didn’t have to do it again this week. But I am going to do it again in August for when the CARES Act expires.”
Adams said she hopes the judges will question landlords on the contents of their affidavits rather than simply accepting them as true.
“Our hope and expectation is that the judge will not only take the affidavit and call it a day. Landlords may either not know the information and make a mistake, or be untruthful on the affidavit. Our hope and expectation is that the judge will question the landlord based on the affidavit.”
She said she doesn’t know exactly how many people will be facing evictions starting July 6 and then again on August 25. But given the state of the state’s economy, she expects a big jump in evictions.
“We’re just estimating, like everyone is,” Adams said. “Because unemployment numbers are roughly four times what they were pre-Covid that we’re going to see about four times the evictions. I can tell you that our intake line, we were getting maybe 15 calls a day. Last week, we got between 25 and 40 calls every day. It was a lot of people getting notices to vacate, some were evictions. We’re anticipating a very high volume.”
As originally published, this article misidentified the Chief Judge of First City Court. (June 22, 2020)