Residents: Fix our rental properties

Two families say their rental homes could be dangerous

September 20, 2007 at 8:30 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

A gaping hole in the ceiling of the Bailey household is an open eyesore and the exposure to pipes and wiring. The parish can condemn any dwelling that
Photo by Shonna Riggs
A gaping hole in the ceiling of the Bailey household is an open eyesore and the exposure to pipes and wiring. The parish can condemn any dwelling that "interferes with the use or enjoyment of property, endangers personal health or safety, or is offensive
Two families who rent from a landlord in Luling want extensive damages to their homes repaired.

The Chopin and Bailey families rent from Norbert Green, who owns a fence company in addition to rental properties. However, Green says there's nothing wrong with any of his buildings.

"I try to keep my rental properties up as if they were my own home, all of them have central air and heat and I put new refrigerators and stoves in all my properties,” Green said. "I would live in any one of them myself. I have properties that I rent in Destrehan and no one has complained to me about anything. My rental properties are cheap compared to some other places."

Green says that he rents three and four bedroom houses from $300 to $400 monthly. While that may be a bargain, the families say that the homes aren’t worth anywhere close to that amount.

"I had to purchase window air conditioning units because the central unit doesn't work," Shawane Chopin said. "I asked Mr. Green, to deduct my expenses from my rent but he refused to do it.

"It's been broken for months and when I asked Mr. Norbert to fix it, he never answered me," she continued. "So I just went out and bought some window units to keep us cool, hoping he would deduct this from my rent, but the only time he shows up is to collect the rent.”

Another resident renting from Green has a rodent problem and other issues in her home that cause her to fear for her family’s health and safety.

"Rats were coming in through the roof," Shawanda Bailey said. "I had to nail a piece of wood in the ceiling to stop the rats from coming in. Mice are crawling in underneath the doorways, because they are damaged and have wide spaces, I just killed six in my house."

Bailey says she is trying to do the best she can on a limited budget, but some problems are beyond her control

“My windows are painted shut, and I'm scared that we won't make it out in time if this house catches on fire," Bailey said. "The floors are horrible, and the wood is rotten.”

Bailey says that she had to buy a rug just to cover up the damaged floors to prevent her children from getting splinters or larger pieces of wood stuck in their skin.

While the floors are bad, the smell of the house is even worse.

"In the shed outside there is a raw sewage smell that keeps seeping inside the house" she continued. "My son is taking asthma and allergy medications now because the house is closed in and it's an older house and we can't air it out because the windows don't open."

According to the justice of the peace for the District 4 area, matters of rental disputes must go before a civil board.

"When there is a dispute between a landlord and a tenant because the tenant believes they are living in poor housing, both parties have to come before a judicial body to settle the matter," Judge L. J. Frickey said.

And though neither tenant signed a lease agreement with Green, they still have a case.

"Just because the tenants didn't sign a lease, it doesn't mean they don't have rights," Frickey said. "Lease agreements are designed to protect both the landlord and the tenant.”

"As justice of the peace, I do have jurisdiction to hear rental disputes, civil matters, and eviction disputes parish wide,” he said.

Frickey said if a tenant has purchased necessary housing equipment, the tenant could have the legal right not to pay rent until the cost has been deducted.

"I'm not sure how this would apply for air conditioners, but something like a hole in the floor, would be a good example," Frickey said. "A tenant should request, in writing, for the landlord to fix the floor, but if he doesn't they should make the repairs, because it's a hazard to the safety of the people living in the housing unit.

"If the landlord refuses to make the repairs and won't reimburse the tenant, the tenant has the right to withhold the rent," he continued. "If someone falls or gets injured because of the damages, the landlord is responsible for paying all medical bills of the party who was injured."

Residents can file a complaint at 152 Bayou Estates Drive in Bayou Gauche and there is an $80 filling fee. That fee may be hard for either family to pay since Green raised rental prices. Chopin says that though she was paying $200, she is now paying $500 per month.

The St. Charles Parish planning and zoning department said they can enforce citations on a landlord whose property is not in good condition.

Reese Kinler, zoning administrator for St. Charles Parish, recommends that tenants contact the board of health office for these types of complaints and the justice of the peace for the district.

A parish ordinance states that the parish can condemn any dwelling that "interferes with the use or enjoyment of property, endangers personal health or safety, or is offensive to the senses."

But the ordinance pertains to the outside of the structure.

"Legally, a parish inspector can't go into someone's residence and conduct any type of formal inspection," Kinler said.

For more information on how to file a complaint, contact St. Charles Parish Office of Planning and Zoning at 985-783-5060.

View other articles written Shonna Riggs

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