[StBernard] Rent law a solution with no problem

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Fri Aug 22 09:00:37 EDT 2008

Rent law a solution with no problem
Friday, August 22, 2008Jarvis DeBerry
There's no worse fate for a previously flooded neighborhood than one or two
renovated houses whose inhabitants are surrounded on all sides by

There's no better fate for such a neighborhood than having every house
renovated and occupied by the person or family who owns it.

Somewhere between awful and great are neighborhoods mixed with homeowners
and renters and neighborhoods where almost everybody rents.

While struggling to craft a restrictive ordinance that the courts will
accept, an ordinance that will force homeowners to come to the parish
seeking permission to rent their homes, St. Bernard Parish officials have
indicated their desire to have the ideal -- neighborhoods of homeowners. At
the same time they have talked about renters as if they're the worst thing
that could ever hit a storm-damaged neighborhood. But in a parish that was
almost completely submerged during Hurricane Katrina, surely a lingering
near-emptiness is a worse fate.

In denying a request by a group of plaintiffs who had asked her to prevent
enforcement of the ordinance, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance ruled that it
isn't her place to guess if St. Bernard's idea will work -- or if a
differently worded ordinance would work better.

"This Court is not in a position to review whether the Ordinance will in
fact stabilize the rental market in St. Bernard Parish, or to question
whether defendant's legislation is the best way to achieve this goal, or
whether St. Bernard Parish could achieve its goal in a less restrictive
manner," Judge Vance wrote.

Instead, she said, her job was to focus on the plaintiffs' claims: that the
ordinance amounted to "takings without just compensation" and that it
violated the plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. The
plaintiffs failed to make either case in a previous hearing, Judge Vance
wrote, and are unlikely to make it in the future. So she denied their
request to throw the law out.

The plaintiffs couldn't convince Judge Vance that they'd been harmed by the
parish ordinance because none of the plaintiffs had filed an application for
permission to rent. They chose to file a lawsuit instead.

As an opponent of the ordinance, I was disappointed to read that it wasn't
tossed out, but I was encouraged by the evidence St. Bernard officials had
to produce to rebut claims that the ordinance is unfairly restrictive.

Jerry Graves, the parish's community development director, told the court
that as of July 2, nearly 25 percent of the rental permits that had been
granted were granted to applicants from outside Louisiana.

If you listen to St. Bernard residents who support the ordinance, they will
tell you that the ordinance is designed to keep out-of-state investors from
buying up properties and renting them. That is, in fact, why they support

But out-of-state applicants have had great success. In fact, nearly
everybody has. As of Aug. 1, the Parish Council had approved 41 of 42
applications from owners who wanted to rent their properties. They denied
that one property, Judge Vance wrote, "because the property was located in a
Murphy Refinery buyout region."

If nearly everyone -- in state or out-of-state -- who has applied for
permission to rent a home has been granted that permission, what exactly is
the point of the ordinance? What does it do?

It clearly doesn't do what some of its fiercest supporters think it's doing,
that is, keep outsiders from buying properties or keep the renters out.

If parish officials have to show themselves accessible just to keep the
ordinance on the books, let them keep it. Though it can't be a satisfying

. . . . . . .

Jarvis DeBerry is an editorial writer. He can be reached at 504.826.3355 or
at jdeberry at timespicayune.com.

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