Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Katrina Survivors Win Stay of Evictions

To: National Desk
Contact: Sabrina Williams 240-463-6875 or 202-728-9557
WASHINGTON, Nov. 23 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Today Advancement Project, on behalf of several New Orleans renters, ACORN, Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund, UNITE HERE and SEIU, obtained a very favorable settlement in a lawsuit (Sylvester v. Bossiere, et al.) challenging evictions of tenants from rental properties in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. The parties agreed to a stay of all evictions for renters in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, pending mail notification to addresses provided by FEMA and hearings 45 days later.
"The residents of New Orleans and survivors have won basic fairness," said Judith Browne, co-director of Advancement Project, a national racial justice organization that helped bring the case. "Our plaintiffs and thousands of other tenants were being thrown out of their homes, and their possessions tossed into the street, without their knowledge, and without any means of protecting themselves. It was adding injury to injury."
The suit was brought by individual plaintiffs, organizations, and unions against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Clerks of the courts, Justices of the Peace and Constables in response to a wave of evictions proceeding without notice to the tenants. Louisiana law requires only that lessees whose whereabouts are unknown receive notice by tacking it to the door of the premises; yet most of the tenants have been evacuated and dispersed throughout the country, with no way of knowing that the eviction process is underway. Furthermore, although most evacuees have registered with FEMA, the agency had previously refused to divulge the addresses, citing privacy concerns. Louisiana law also permits quick evictions with trials to occur three days after this tacking.
"All of the parties worked hard to protect the rights of the people of Orleans and Jefferson parishes," said Ishmael Muhammad, staff attorney for Advancement Project. "This is clearly a step in the right direction, FEMA and the state defendants moved quickly to right this wrong."
The agreement requires FEMA to turn over to the courts in Orleans and Jefferson parishes the addresses of tenants facing evictions, and requires that hearings be scheduled no sooner than 45 days after notice is mailed to the evacuees. In the past, FEMA has refused all requests to provide the addresses of evacuees, even to the State of Louisiana.
Bill Quigley, a Loyola University law professor who served as co-counsel in the suit expressed satisfaction at the ruling. "The renters of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes were facing a serious injustice, where no real effort was being made to contact them. And they had no means of redress. This stay, and the notification requirement, gives residents an opportunity to be heard, to rescue their possessions, and decide whether they wish to return to their homes."
http://releases.usnewswire.com/redir.asp?ReleaseID=57113&Link=http://www.usnewswire.com/
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/© 2005 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/

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