The Orleans Parish Civil District Court, along with the city’s two eviction courts — the First and Second City Courts — will all be closed through September 19, according to a Wednesday announcement posted on the Louisiana Supreme Court website.
First City Court Clerk Austin Badon confirmed on Thursday that the courts currently have no ability to process evictions following Hurricane Ida.
“We cannot process evictions right now,” Badon said. “The building is closed, the staff is dispersed, if someone wanted to bring me an eviction, I dont have the staff to process that and we don’t have the computer system to register it. It is somewhat of an extension of the moratorium.”
Badon did say that if the situation improved sooner than expected, they may be able to start processing evictions again.
“If things got back to normalcy sooner and we could get back into the building — there was minimal damage to the building. If we got electric and drinkable water we could start processing again soon. If they told me that you could go back into the building and start up then we would do that.”
While courts are closed, however, illegal evictions — when people are kicked out without proper notice or a court order — remain a concern, Badon said.
“My concern is that I don’t want people evicted [now] because it could be an illegal eviction,” he said. “I don’t want landlords to think that it’s ok to go into the property and put people’s stuff out, because there is case law that says that is illegal.”
Attorney Hannah Adams with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services echoed Badon’s concern.
“We’re telling everyone to text their landlord to say they are evacuated and have not abandoned their homes so landlords don’t try to extrajudicially evict. It is illegal for a landlord to take any action to remove a tenant or their belongings without going through the court eviction process.
“The law only allows a landlord to take possession of a unit without going to court if the property is abandoned,” Adams explained. “Typically this means that the property is empty of furnishings, no one appears to be living there for an extended period of time, and the keys are left or returned.”
Housing advocates at the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center and Loyola University law school have asked Governor John Bel Edwards for an immediate eviction halt — at least covering parishes most impacted by Hurricane Ida — for 30 days as families who evacuated return home in a Tuesday letter.
An Edwards spokesperson told The Lens on Thursday that Edwards’ office had received the letter, and that “the governor is going to be looking at all possible options,” but they do not have a timeline for when those options will be fully evaluated.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, some landlords claimed that tenants had abandoned their rental properties and illegally removed their belongings. Adams stressed the importance of “protect[ing] yourself by putting your landlord on written notice that you have not moved out and plan to return.”
More information for renters affected by Hurricane Ida can be found on the Southeast Louisiana Legal Services site.
Badon confirmed that even though the court is closed through the 19th, it would be able to process temporary restraining orders to prevent illegal evictions, on an emergency basis.
“We could find a duty judge and walk those through,” he said.
Emergency pleadings can be sent to the clerk of Civil District Court’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org, according to the court’s Wednesday press release. Emails should contain a phone number where the party can be reached.
Philip Kiefer contributed to this report.