New Orleans Government Home Invasion Program
“Once the horse is out of the barn it will be too late to lock the door.”
At least two New Orleans City Council members are trying to draft a Rental Registry (RR) program that forces renters to unlock their doors and submit to a multimillion-dollar government mandated home inspection program. Strangers sent by the government will roam your home taking pictures of any code violations to determine if your home is safe and meets their minimum standards for habitability. Most property owners disagree with the program calling it costly, wasteful, intrusive and unnecessary.
Q. What is the Rental Registry?
A. The proposed Rental Registry (RR) is a multimillion-dollar government bureaucracy that mandates all rental property owners must register their property with the New Orleans Rental Registry and pay all applicable registration and inspection fees. Once registered, the rental property is under the complete jurisdiction of the RR and must comply with all current rules, policies, ordinances, laws, building codes, etc. and any and all rules that the RR may create from time-to-time.
Q. Is there a real need for a Rental Registry?
A. Not everyone agrees, but a few vocal voices believe there is a crisis and that 78% of rental units in New Orleans need major repairs. Their vision of the RR is the first step in punishing bad landlords that fail to make repairs. However, there is no credible evidence to suggest or support the alleged crisis. Still there are others who see the RR as a $10 to $19 million bureaucratic money grab and are angered by the idea of more government intrusion into their private lives.
Q. Is there really a crisis requiring a $10 to $19 million government takeover?
A. Absolutely not. Data from the US Census Bureau’s American Home Survey (AHS) ranks Orleans, Jefferson and Kenner inline with the national average at 92.72% of the respondents reporting no problems and a high satisfaction rate of 93.51% with their landlords repair and maintenance response in the selected categories. Of the 7.28% respondents reporting a maintenance request, the data does not indicate the landlord failed to repair the problem. Why is this important? Because RR proponents took this report, misinterpreted the data and painted a bleak and horrifying picture of a nonexistent crisis. Now they are demanding a $10 to $19 million to fix something that isn’t broken. We have prepared this report Exhibit A AHS to document the facts.
Q. What about the current laws that already regulate the rental industry?
A. There are detailed state and municipal codes that clearly define the entire relationship between a tenant and a landlord (Free Handbook). The RR, at best, will not accomplish anything that cannot otherwise be accomplished through existing laws. Louisiana’s Attorney General believes that education is the key:
Every day the Attorney General’s Office receives questions and complaints involving landlord and tenant issues. Education is the best way to address these types of complaints and give you the answers you need. (James D. “Buddy” Caldwell Attorney General)
Q. How does the Rental Registry effect or change current laws?
A. It’s a little early to know the specific answer to this one, but all signs point to circumvention of due process under the current laws. Trying to evict a delinquent tenant for unpaid rent will not be possible while the tenant is waving a RR inspection form or pending inspection letter in the courtroom. And the possibility of being charged with retaliation against a tenant for reporting you to the RR as a bad landlord will be very possible.
Q. What about my 4th amendment constitutional right of privacy in my home?
A. There is a legitimate concern here of uninvited strangers roaming in every room of your home photographing at will your personal property and making it part of a public record. Without a request or permission from the renter or a home owner, the government is violating our constitutional right to privacy, unless a reliable and credible complaint of a code violation has been reported to code enforcement. Assurance or compliance inspections of your home violates your 4th amendment rights. A warrant to enter (without your permission) should only be issued where there exist reasonable cause to believe you are in violation of some code, ordinances or law. This has been the constitutional standard upheld for years. The idea of entering someones home to see if they are violating the law is a dangerous precedent that must be avoided. If the RR is enacted, look for a serious constitutional challenge and your tax dollars spent defending this home invasion program. The idea of city government fighting private citizens to invade their homes without permission and uninvited is appalling.
Q. How would the Rental Registry be funded? Are inspections free?
A. RR proponents are trying to hoodwink the public by calling the RR “self-funding.” Truthfully, revenue generation for the fund will come from fees and fines charged to the landlord who will in turn pass these fees along to the renters in the form of rental increases. So, who pays? The person least able to afford it—the renter. Look for rents to rise as rental property owners are forced to meet the ever increasing policies, inspections, fees, fines and demands of the RR Police.
Q. What are the minimum standards landlords must meet for habitability?
A. RR proponents suggest HUD or Section 8 standards be used for minimum compliance. Here is the current 20-page HUD inspection booklet1.
Q. Why do proponents want to use HUD/Section 8 standards for compliance?
A. There is a hidden agenda to eventually force all rental property owners to accept Section 8 tenants. Currently, Section 8 acceptance is voluntary and many landlords do not accept Section 8 renters. RR proponents will soon declare that anyone refusing to accept Section 8 tenants is discriminating. New laws will need to be drafted requiring all landlords to accept Section 8 residents. All rental properties will already be registered with the RR, which is a Para-Section 8 agency and therefore Section 8 compliant through the RR. If the RR uses the same inspection guidelines as Section 8, the currently “free” Section 8 inspection could be delegated to the fee-based RR and the landlord would be forced to raise rents to cover the expense. In essence, HUD will rely on the local fee-based RR inspection instead of the free inspection, freeing-up more funds to promote its agenda.
Q. How would a Rental Registry work?
A. The process involves registering an owner and his/her rental property into a searchable public data base managed by the RR agency. The property will be inspected for “minimum standards” compliance and issued an Occupancy Certificate if it passes inspection. Failing inspections will most likely involve more fees for re-inspection. In addition, renters will have the “rental police” to call whenever the want to complain. All complaints will be investigated immediately and the landlord cited for noncompliance along with the possibility of daily penalty fees. This history will become your public ranking in RR database for all the world to see. Problem tenants will love this tool to avoid paying rent. You will not be able to collect rent when the unit is not in compliance.
Q. Will the RR rank bad landlords and bad tenants?
A. Complaints against landlords will be listed by owner and municipal property address. There is no specific detail as to how much detail will be included, but the RR is all about empowering the tenants and identifying bad landlords. There are no plans to list bad tenants by name at this time. Some have suggest that tenants that skipped, were evicted for nonpayment of rent or trashed the rental property should be included, if the RR goes forward.
Q. Aren’t landlords raising rents while investing little in housing quality?
A. Since Katrina, the majority of New Orleans rental property owners have been upgrading and renovating their properties. Newly renovated rentals began appearing all over the city after Katrina, forcing the competition to renovate or go vacant. Anyone familiar with the New Orleans rental market knows this. Only a few rental property owners neglected to make improvements. New Orleans landlords ranked 92.72% in our attached data sheet Exhibit A AHS which is inline with the national average.
Q. Won’t the Rental Registry help fight blighted properties all over the city?
A. No. Abandon uninhabitable blighted properties are not the same as occupied rental units. Blighted properties are actively being adjudicated under current codes and ordinances. Residents can report blighted properties by calling 311. Blight means dilapidated, hazardous, decaying, unsafe, unsanitary, dangerous to the public health, a public nuisance or endangering the life or property of others or is conducive to ill health, delinquency and crime. RR proponents often and unfairly reference these abandon decaying properties in the same context as occupied rental units because we are all angry about blight and they elicit public outrage. The RR focus is occupied rental units or soon to be occupied rental units–not abandoned blighted properties.
Q. Will homeowners be required to register with the RR for safety inspections?
A. If the RR passes there is a strong case for a combined Homeowner And Rental Registry because it is equally important that the homeowner’s property be held to the same “minimum standards” as the rental property next door? Rental property owners have a right to demand the city inspect the homeowner’s house adjacent to their rental for substandard conditions like peeling paint, leaky sewer-lines, rat harborage, other code violations and fire hazards? The rental property owner has a substantial investment in the community and a bad homeowner with a substandard house next door or across the street will only lower the value of the rental property and make it extremely difficult for the rental property owner to find good tenants and charge a fair price. We cannot have a double standard. In time, all homeowners will find themselves facing this same invasive government intrusion into their private lives.
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