New Orleans has a troubling legacy to overcome when it comes to the condition of its rental homes, even though more than half the City’s residents are renters. Such conditions have wide-ranging effects on everything from health to educational outcomes. Many renters find themselves having to move because they can’t get dangerous housing conditions addressed. When people have to move a lot, neighborhood stability goes down and so does public safety.
In a City where rents have skyrocketed beyond the reach of many working families, New Orleans renters deserve assurances that the homes they live in meet basic standards of quality and safety. A rental registry program would be good for New Orleans and can be designed in a way that is not overly cumbersome for the many landlords in the City that are just trying to do the right thing.
Poor conditions in New Orleans rental homes — and the lack of recourse that renters have when they face bad conditions — are well documented, most recently in a report released by a wide swath of organizations working to improve New Orleans housing outcomes. For years, poor conditions in rental homes have been one of the most common complaints we’ve heard about at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. We also frequently hear from renters that are facing eviction after having brought concerns about things like mold and rodent infestations in their homes to the attention of their landlords. Calls to 311 about these problems go completely ignored.
The problems are so pervasive that we decided to bring them to the attention of our City’s leaders. We appreciate the leadership of Councilmembers Williams and Cantrell in studying the scope of the problem and being prepared to act in resolving it.
If properly designed, the idea of a rental registry is the best solution to address the challenges that both landlords and tenants face in New Orleans when it comes to complying with basic standards of health and safety as detailed in the City’s code. State law does not protect tenants from retaliation when they complain about conditions in rental homes, so relying on a solely complaint-based system, even if it is improved upon, will not cut it.
Recently stated concerns about the potential program are puzzling in light of the fact that legislation has not actually been introduced. In a demonstration of leadership and accountability to the community, Councilwoman Cantrell agreed to delay introduction of an ordinance that would establish the registry once some of her colleagues and a group of landlords raised concerns about the process. We are confident that our City’s leaders can work together to design a program that works for New Orleans.
Currently, corner stores are regulated more strictly than one of the most important assets in our community: rental homes. New Orleans deserves better. Concerns about over-regulation are important to consider, but should not prohibit us from acting to ensure that the health and safety of our City’s residents is adequately protected. A well-designed rental registry program is good for renters, easy for landlords, and best for New Orleans.
Kate Scott is the assistant director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.