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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lawmakers support bill to help Louisiana renters recover more of their security deposits

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2018 at 6:30 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROBERT LINDER

Losing out on security deposits is a familiar, frustrating rite of passage for many renters in Louisiana, which has few legal protections for renters. The Louisiana Legislature even issued a resolution in 2014 that recognized the lack of those protections. More than half of all residents in New Orleans rent, and for many of those renters, a deposit is another burden adding to the costs of housing, often expected to never be seen again.

Senate Bill 466 would allow renters to collect a slightly larger check from negligent landlords that have illegally held on to a security deposit, along with all or part of the security deposit. Last week, the bill cleared its final legislative hurdle in the House by a 56-23 vote and now heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards' desk for approval.

Effective Aug. 1, the bill from state Sen. Ed Price would raise the maximum penalty that renters can recover from a landlord that illegally withheld a deposit to up to twice the amount of the deposit.

The change would allow renters who take their deposit claim to court and win to collect a wrongfully retained security deposit and $300 or twice the amount of whatever was illegally retained, whichever is greater.

The previous law capped the recoverable funds at $200.

Housing advocacy organizations celebrated the bill's passage, which the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center called a "measure of economic relief to Louisiana’s 1.5 million renters."

Davida Finger, a professor Loyola University College of Law, which oversees the Loyola Law Clinic, says the clinic frequently represents renters whose landlords have withheld deposits.

"Even after winning a lawsuit, the most renters usually receive back under the old law is the stolen deposit," Finger said in a statement. "For bad actors, that was no disincentive. Low-income people cannot easily access attorneys or the courts. Without deposit funds, there is a struggle to secure new housing."

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