By Claire Byun
A new plan to register and inspect apartments in New Orleans is headed to City Council on Thursday, though Faubourg St. John neighbors still has reservations about the proposed policies.
Keith Twitchell, president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans, explained parts of the ordinance to members of the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association at their regular meeting Tuesday. The proposal allows the city to hire a private firm to register and inspect most private rentals within the city. The public registry would be put in place in January and landlords would have to sign up by the end of the year, with different deadlines based on the number of apartments a property contains. If an apartment passed its initial inspection, it wouldn’t be required to have another one for three years, though problematic properties would have more frequent reviews, Twitchell said.
The program would be paid for by fees of about $60 every year per unit.
“We have thousands, possibly tens of thousands of people living in New Orleans, living in places we wouldn’t even let our dogs live in,” Twitchell said.
Housing advocates have pushed reform for years, though this most recent strategy has met resistance from some landlords and others concerned about how a failed inspection would impact tenants. Some FSJNA members argued that if the apartment fails inspection, and the landlord doesn’t make any renovations, tenants would be left on the street.
If a landlord does improve the property, rent would skyrocket, thus pushing out those who can’t afford the higher costs, opponents said. Many landlords may choose to just sell their newly-renovated properties rather than rent, argued Conrad Abadie, FSJNA member.
“They’re going to go from rental properties to sale properties, and they’re going to be scooped up,” Abadie said.
Sarah Stogner, FSJNA president, asked how city officials would enforce the registration especially from those unwilling to follow the rules. Twitchell said under the ordiannce, tenants would be more apt to report problems.
There would also be safeguards to protect tenants for turning in substandard apartments without threat of eviction, and the program would give landlords documentation of damage by unruly tenants, Twitchell said.
Twitchell said any renovations are mostly health-based – such as working plumbing and electricity – so the bar to pass is “very low.”
If the bar is so low, Abidie said, then high-cost rentals shouldn’t be included in the registry. Abadie said it’s unfair to penalize landlords who take care of their property and “invade their privacy” with inspections.
“You’re going to cast a huge net on people who charge a $3000 rent because some bad outlaws are doing bad deeds,” he said. “It’s not going to get you to where you want to be – it’s unfair to cast a huge net on everyone.”
All landlords are included in the program, Twitchell said, due to equity.
“It’s only fair,” he said.
The proposal goes before the full City Council at their regular meeting Thursday. The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. at City Hall, 1300 Perdido St.