Photos by Quinn Welsch/The West Side Journal
Donna Sanchez was evicted from her trailer in Addis, pictured, after she stopped paying rent. But necessary repairs were never made to the trailer, she said.
When she separated from her husband in 2015, Donna Sanchez needed to find a home to stay in. Her options were limited, but with the help of a Brusly friend, she found a trailer on Third Street in Addis.
It had a few issues, she recalled, but her landlord said he would address them, she said. Sanchez settled into her new home, but claimed the issues were never addressed. A hole to the outside under her bathtub was never repaired, she said. Mold spread in parts of the trailer. She woke up one morning with a rat staring her in the face. She later discovered that her sewer lines weren’t even connected.
“It was god awful to smell from under there,” she said.
She started to get sick.
After two years, Sanchez said the repairs were minimal. So, she hired someone to make the repairs herself. She gave her landlord a receipt with a deducted payment from her rent. He scolded her for going over his head, she said. She asked for more repairs, but they never came, she said.
According to Louisiana law, a tenant who refuses to pay can be served a 24-hour eviction notice, which is what happened to Sanchez.
The issue was brought to the attention of the Addis Town Council on Nov. 1. Mayor David Toups said that an ordinance to tighten landlord-tenant laws is in the works. Toups, who is familiar with Sanchez’s story, said he began working on the ordinance a little more than a year ago.
The topic was brought to light in 2015 after the death of an Addis girl who was electrocuted by exposed wires near her mother’s rental unit on Chad Street, Toups said.
As the town grows, rental property is becoming more common, Toups said. The ordinance is meant to provide a safety net amid that growth.
Sanchez’s landlord, Shane Lopez, denied that she ever requested any repairs to her rental trailer.
Lopez said the trailer’s only deficiency was a “water issue.”
A Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) inspector who visited the trailer at the request of Sanchez found that her trailer and her neighbor’s trailer were both in violation of state sanitation standards.
West Baton Rouge Parish inspectors regularly make occupancy permits at the request of the town or the owner of a rental unit, West Baton Rouge Planning and Zoning Director Kevin Durbin said.
Durbin’s department follows through with as many 40 of these permits each month throughout West Baton Rouge, including in the Addis town limits. Inspectors generally look for electrical issues in the rental units, but they also look for other unsafe conditions in the rental unit, Durbin said.
The inspections often occur when a rental needs its utilities reconnected. As it stands, the landlords can “side-step” the process if they don’t need utilities turned back on, he said.
In theory, the new Addis ordinance would require an inspector from the parish government to reissue occupancy permits whenever a tenant leaves a rental home.
Lopez has received three residential occupancy permits from the parish for rentals this year. He declined to say how many units he rents out, but said he owns “a ton.”
Lopez repaired some of the trailer’s plumbing and replaced the hot water heater in the unit after a re-inspection by the DHH.
“There are no sanitary code restrictions that limit whether or not the landlord can continue to rent trailers on the property,” DHH spokesman Robert Johannessen said in an email. “That is entirely up to the landlord and would-be tenants.”
The rental ordinance was tabled until the Town Council’s December meeting while Addis and West Baton Rouge officials decide how to enforce standards of rental property. Parish officials are currently reviewing their inspection checklist before the town approves anything, Toups said.
“I don’t want to put any undue pressure on them. I don’t want the Town Council to enact a law that we can’t enforce,” he said. “Honestly and truly, we’re starting to have a lot of rental businesses. It’s a big need.”
Toups said an ordinance may not be enacted until after 2018.
Meanwhile, Sanchez, who still lives in Addis, says she wants to see some of her rent money returned.
She likes the quiet life of Addis, but said she was treated unfairly, first by her landlord, and then at the Constable’s office when she was evicted.
“I felt like I was being wrenched,” she said. “Nobody listened to anything I had to say.”