Healthy Homes Ordinance introduces system to track living standards

New Orleans City Council is in the process of passing a housing rental registry called the Healthy Homes Ordinance to ensure a minimum standard of health and safety for rented units in the city.

Though there are currently laws in place requiring landlords to maintain minimum housing standards of their units, the lack of record, registration and enforcement keeps many New Orleans citizens in substandard housing conditions.

According to Katie Hunter-Lowrey, director of communications for city council member and ordinance co-sponsor Jason Roger Williams, the draft of the ordinance has gone through the Community Development Committee twice but has not been voted on yet by the full council. If it passes, the program would be implemented in either 2018 or 2019.

The new legislation would hold landlords accountable for ensuring that rented units meet the new minimum living standards outlined in the ordinance. These standards include the installation of an operable fire and smoke detection system and alarm, connection of plumbing fixtures to a public sewage system or to an approved private system, supply of hot and cold running water, heating facilities, properly installed working appliances and clean and sanitary interior surfaces.

The ordinance also outlines a system of required registration for rental units in the city. This registration system would help the government keep track of the standard of rental units. It would also provide a forum to report bad landlords and tenants to hold both of these groups accountable.

“This is putting the mechanism in place for proper reporting and accountability for both the tenant as well as the rental property owner,” City Council member Latoya Cantrell, who co-sponsored the ordinance, said.

Many tenants fear a bad relationship with landlords if they retaliate against unresponsiveness on behalf of the landlord or a failure of the landlord to take responsibility for taking care of house maintenance. The ordinance would provide a way for those tenants to report these cases and for landlords to report tenants abusing rules.

“There are fears of reporting because tenants are afraid of being evicted, so we are building in safe walls as well to protect the tenants,” Cantrell said.

Regular $30 inspections of all rented units would be required under the ordinance. After a rented unit passes inspection and receives a certificate of compliance, inspections would take place at three-year intervals. If a unit fails, it would be temporarily prohibited from being rented and inspections would occur more frequently.

Thirty-seven percent of families’ incomes go toward housing costs, and rent prices have increased in New Orleans by 50 percent since Hurricane Katrina. The ordinance aims to offset these costs by keeping registration and inspection prices minimal and providing financial assistance to landlords for repairs.

Tulane students living off-campus also suffer the consequences of having unenforced landlord responsibility policies. Junior Becky Rosen said she went into anaphylactic shock in response to black mold and dust in her off-campus residence last year.

Rosen also said that some of her appliances have not been working for more than a month but have yet to be fixed by the landlord.

Sophomore Sara Thiessen said she is taking these scenarios into consideration when choosing where to move off-campus next year. Her first step in the search for off-campus housing was to check the house and determine if the landlord is reliable and fair.

“There are definitely a lot [of landlords] that take advantage of college students who aren’t really experienced in renting or subletting a house,” Thiessen said.

Hunter-Lowrey said she believes that the ordinance would benefit all New Orleans residents, including Tulane students who choose to live off-campus.

“They can be assured … there is a program in place that protects their rights as tenants when it comes to requesting that their landlord fix anything when it goes wrong.” 

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