A major victory for Katrina survivors who were renters before the storm.
All pending evictions are on hold until landlords send eviction notices to their tenants, according to a settlement struck Tuesday in federal court that ends a lawsuit brought by unions, activists and individual renters. Eviction hearings cannot take place until 45 days after those mailings are postmarked.
"No longer can landlords just rely on tacking notices on doors while the tenants don't know they're getting evicted," said Judith Browne, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "It's going to provide fair rules so that people can come and defend themselves and, ultimately, protect their property."
In an added twist, the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to supply court clerks, constables and justices of the peace with addresses of evacuees -- a first in litigation since Katrina, Browne said.
"FEMA will have to supply the addresses to the evictions courts in Orleans and Jefferson," Browne said. "They know where they are."
FEMA will make every effort to provide names and addresses of tenants, upon request by the courts, from its database within five business days, the settlement says. But clerks are not to share the information with anyone, the deal said, and the federal Privacy Act will protect that information.
The settlement, approved by U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood Duval Jr., resolves a lawsuit filed Nov. 10 against every parish and city official who deals with evictions in Orleans and Jefferson. The rules are good for one year from Tuesday.
"There won't be any eviction hearings next week or the week after, or for at least 45 days." said attorney Bill Quigley of the Loyola Law Clinic, which represented plaintiffs. "It is going to help every renter in the metropolitan area, and renters, by and large, are people who don't have a lot of money or resources."
Note the irony of the parts in bold. As I detailed in my article in In These Times, it took Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater much more time and quite a lot more trouble to reach a compromise where FEMA would attempt to reach evacuated voters with information about how they can vote in upcoming elections.
On October 5, Ater asked FEMA’s liaison to his office, Arvin Schultz, for FEMA’s list of evacuees. Schultz responded On October 14 to Ater’s requests with a terse e-mail, writing that FEMA “will not fund the outreach program. They will not let you have a copy of the FEMA applicant list. Sorry!!!” Two days later, Ater appealed to Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer Scott Wells, the top FEMA official in Louisiana. Ater’s appeal was rejected, this time with the rationale that releasing the list of evacuees would violate the Privacy Act of 1974.
Ater then went to Washington, D.C., to negotiate with FEMA and lobby Louisiana’s representatives and senators to push the agency to reverse its decision. He suggested a compromise: FEMA could take the voter rolls from him and mail the election materials itself to avoid disclosing the evacuees’ addresses. Though FEMA said it wanted to work with Ater, agency officials dragged their heels for nearly two weeks. FEMA Spokesman Butch Kinerney says the main problem was “mechanical questions” about the best method for reaching voters while protecting privacy.
On November 8, FEMA finally made a clear concession. The agency said it would pay to send a one-page flyer to all evacuees that would explain voting rights and include ways to contact Ater’s office. Yet, Ater still does not know when FEMA will mail the flyer.
FEMA would not agree to give the information to Ater to protect voting rights, and "mechanical questions" made reaching a compromise position a protracted and demanding process. Apparently protecting the property rights of New Orleans landlords makes FEMA feel comfortable sharing the personal information with numerous people—"clerks, constables and justices of the peace"—while to protect voting rights, FEMA would not share the information with even one, high ranking state official.
See also: Katrina Survivors Win Stay of Evictions