Chaos Clouds New Orleans Housing Market

Louisiana's ban on evictions in the New Orleans area has been delayed by a court order. As returning residents and workers involved in rebuilding jockey for housing, landlords have their own mortgages to pay while some look to maximize their gains in a new kind of market.

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Residents of New Orleans could soon return to find that they've been evicted from their rental apartments and homes. A ban on evictions is still in place in the city until next week, but outside of New Orleans renters are already being put on notice. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

(Soundbite of knocking)

Constable CHARLES WILSON: Constable.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

This week, Constable Charles Wilson has the unenviable task of serving eviction notices to homes renters evacuated here in Jefferson Parish, just south of New Orleans.

Constable WILSON: Anybody home?

DEL BARCO: When no one answers, he tapes the notices to the door, hoping that the occupants return before he's back to evict them next week.

Constable WILSON: I knew this day would come. And I prayed that it would be easier than it is now and that people would have migrated back by that time. But this hasn't happened.

DEL BARCO: Wilson says since the ban on evictions was lifted this week in Louisiana, he's personally delivered about 120 notices a day. He says some residents are under the false impression that they don't have to pay rent until December.

Constable WILSON: This is heartbreaking to me because I lost everything I had in the storm. So I know what it's going to be like when they decide or they say, `Well, for December, we're going home,' only to get home in December and find that, hey, your home is no longer your home. It's all been cleared out. It's gone. So I can't say it enough. Please, get in touch with your landlord; don't lose the rest of whatever Katrina left for you.

DEL BARCO: As the constable leaves the eviction notice, property owner Tom Brooks steps inside to check on the place. He says his tenants haven't paid rent since evacuating the house in August.

Mr. TOM BROOKS: Now bear in mind, there's no flood damage. No damage to the exterior of the house.

DEL BARCO: It smells pretty bad in here.

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, it's the refrigerators and freezers. Electricity's off but perfectly good furniture that somebody could use.

DEL BARCO: Brooks says it seems his tenants never returned to get their possessions and now he's out two months' rent. He still has to pay his mortgage and insurance, not to mention the repairs on this and the other 87 rental units he owns.

You haven't heard from them?

Mr. BROOKS: No. Nothing.

DEL BARCO: You don't have a way to reach them?

Mr. BROOKS: Yes, we have ways but the numbers that they gave us either are no good or, you know, for emergency numbers. They'll say they'll get in touch with us. They're living somewhere else, obviously. And they either don't have the money to come back and get their stuff or they don't want the stuff.

DEL BARCO: Brooks says he'd like to clean out and make repairs to his properties so he can rent them out once more. With so many people coming to rebuild the area, the demand for habitable housing is huge. But elsewhere renters say some landlords are kicking out their old tenants in order to jack up the rent.

Mr. RONALD COLEMAN: Just totally ridiculous. And we know. We got one bedrooms going right now for $600 that was $300 before.

DEL BARCO: Ronald Coleman(ph) says his own rent jumped and he's refusing to pay for September when there was no power or water and he couldn't live there. Attorney Bob Quigley represents tenants in New Orleans.

Mr. BOB QUIGLEY (Attorney): We've had situations where people have come back to New Orleans, found all their stuff out on the street, and other people living in their apartments at higher rents than they were paying before they left.

DEL BARCO: A preview of things to come in New Orleans can already be seen next door in Jefferson Parish. Constable Wilson says he hopes wherever they are, renters hear his plea before he's forced to empty out all their possessions onto the curb.

Constable WILSON: Your only prayer is if somebody swings the corner and say, `Constable, hold it a minute. I live there.' That's what I hope for. Even if it's at the ninth hour, I want them to just say, `Hold up, Constable. I'm here.'

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, New Orleans.

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