A landlord can evict a tenant in Louisiana for a variety of reasons, the most common of which are failing to pay rent or violating the lease or rental agreement. However, the tenant may have a defense available if facing eviction for one of these reasons.
This article will examine the basic eviction process in Louisiana, along with some of the most common defenses available for tenants who want to fight an eviction.
The relationship between a landlord and a tenant is governed by Louisiana state laws and codes. These rules set forth when and how a landlord can evict a tenant. The most common reasons for evictions are failing to pay rent or violating the lease agreement.
If a tenant has failed to pay rent or has violated the lease and the landlord wishes to evict the tenant, the landlord must first give the tenant a five-day notice to vacate. If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit within five days, the landlord can then file an eviction lawsuit with the court. The landlord can proceed with the eviction, even if the tenant pays the rent during those five days or fixes the lease violation (see La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 4701).
If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit within five days, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit, or petition, with the justice of the peace for the county in which the rental unit is located. The court will set a hearing and notify the tenant of the date and time. If the tenant wishes to challenge the eviction, the tenant must come to the hearing. At the hearing, the judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant and make a final determination regarding the eviction (see La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 4731).
The tenant may find that challenging the eviction is not always the best option. The tenant might have to pay the landlord's court and attorney's fees if unsuccessful in court. The tenant could also receive a negative credit rating and could be turned down for future housing. The best option for the tenant might be to try to talk to the landlord and negotiate a deal outside the court system. Many communities have free or low-cost mediation services that handle landlord-tenant disputes; local resources are available through the website mediate.com and the American Arbitration Association. The mediation faqs on the Nolo site provide more information on the subject.
A tenant facing eviction may have at least one defense available.
The only way a landlord can evict a tenant in Louisiana is by going through the court system. It is unlawful for a landlord to try to force a tenant to leave the rental unit through any other means, such as changing the locks or shutting off the utilities to the rental unit. This type of behavior is often referred to as a "self-help" eviction, and if a landlord tries to evict a tenant in this manner, the tenant can sue the landlord for damages (see Weber v. McMillan, 285 So.2d 349 (1973)). For more information on "self-help" evictions, see the article Illegal Eviction Procedures in Louisiana, published by Nolo.
A landlord must carefully follow all the laws and regulations when attempting to evict a tenant. Failure to do so may result in the eviction being stopped. For example, a landlord in Louisiana must give the tenant a five-day notice to vacate the premises before filing the eviction lawsuit. If the landlord does not give the tenant any notice at all, but instead just goes straight to court, the tenant could use lack of notice as a defense against the eviction. The eviction would stop, and the landlord would have to give the tenant the proper five-day notice before filing a new eviction lawsuit at the end of the five days.
Keep in mind that this type of a defense will not stop a justified eviction. As soon as the landlord fixes the deficient procedure, the eviction will proceed as normal.
In Louisiana, a landlord is required to maintain the rental unit in a condition fit for habitation. This means that if a necessary repair is needed, such as the heater not working or a leaky hot water heater, the landlord is required to make the repairs, as long as the tenant did not purposefully cause the damage (see La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2691).
If a repair is needed, the tenant should notify the landlord, in writing if possible, and allow the landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repair. If the landlord does not make the repair, the tenant has a few options:
If a landlord tries to evict a tenant for paying reduced rent, the tenant can defend against the eviction by showing that the landlord failed to make necessary repairs and the tenant made the repairs instead. The tenant should keep all copies of receipts and transactions in regard to the repairs made.
The federal Fair Housing Act and the Louisiana Open Housing Act make it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status (including children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), and disability. If a landlord tries to evict a tenant based on any of these characteristics, the tenant can use the discrimination as a defense to the eviction. See the Nolo article Housing Discrimination Prohibited by State and Local Law for more on laws prohibiting discrimination against tenants.
Legal aid organizations, such as the ALSC and Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, can provide free or low-cost legal services to those who qualify based on income. Tenants who live in federally assisted housing should also check out the tenant resource page at HUD.gov.
Eviction cases are filed with the justice of the peace for the county in which the rental unit is located.
If you have more specific legal questions about your eviction case or the landlord has already retained a lawyer, you should probably also contact a lawyer. A lawyer can handle the whole case or give you advice on how to proceed. A lawyer can also let you know how likely you are to win your case. You may especially want to hire an attorney if you are confident of your case and your lease or rental agreement entitles you to attorney fees if you win in court.
For advice on finding a good lawyer, see the Nolo article How to Find an Excellent Lawyer.
Also check out Nolo's Lawyer Directory for Louisiana lawyers who specialize in landlord-tenant law.
For more articles on the subject, see the Evictions and Terminations section of Nolo.com.
For more information on tenant rights, see Every Tenant's Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).