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Free tenants’ rights workshop aims to educate and empower renters

The event will be held this Saturday at the Main Library

A row of New Orleans-style doubles on the left side of the street include a mint green home with white columns and black iron fence in front of a sidewalk Lisa Blue/Getty Images

New Orleans housing justice organizers want to equip renters with the tools and organizing skills to protect themselves against a vulnerable rental market that offers them few protections.

On Saturday, July 27, a free tenants’ rights workshop will cover the state of Louisiana’s landlord-tenant laws and educate tenants on ways they can retain their security deposits.

More than half of New Orleanians rent their homes, according to the latest U.S. Census data, and more than 60 percent of those households are rent-burdened, or spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent and utilities, as reported by the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance.

New Orleans’ tenant eviction rate is nearly double the national average, and citywide evictions disproportionately impact lower-income households, predominantly in black neighborhoods and neighborhoods that historically were redlined. A 2019 report from Loyola University professor Davida Finger and housing justice organization Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative found that 24,000 people were displaced following court-ordered evictions between January 2015 and June 2018. That figure doesn’t include “informal evictions,” when landlords evict tenants without legal recourse.

“The real number of evictions is certainly far higher, as there is no way to determine how many renters in New Orleans are informally evicted,” the report notes.

Hosted by Jane Place and the New Orleans Renters Union, the workshop is designed to empower renters and offer legal advice, walking through the “small things here and there that can really save people and keep people in their homes,” says Y. Frank Southall, lead organizer and community engagement coordinator with Jane Place. “It’s an organized opportunity to know what’s going on in state law, what’s going on in legislature. Education is great, but if people aren’t organizing it’s difficult [to create change].”

The workshop begins at 11 a.m. at the New Orleans Main Library. Housing lawyer Hannah Adams will lead the clinic, which starts with a security deposit training, followed by a “know your rights” overview at noon. Lunch is provided and children are welcome.

Workshop topics include how renters who pay in cash can keep a record of their payments, how to document the state of an apartment and communicate with a landlord to ensure the return of a security deposit, what tenant protections exist on a state level, and how organizers are pushing for more progressive legislation in Baton Rouge and at New Orleans City Hall.

The Renters Union, one of the event’s co-sponsors, comprises renters, people experiencing homelessness, low-income homeowners, and others organizing for a renters bill of rights and legal protections against landlord retaliation and harassment, among other issues.

Workshop organizers hope to show “what needs to be done to effectively be representing this city in Baton Rouge,” Southall says. “People underestimate the power this city has.”

Email frank@jpnsi.org for more information or volunteer opportunities.