New Orleans Victory against Evictions

Ishmael Muhammad
Date Published: 
November 30, 2005


A Statement from Ishmael Muhammad,
Lead counsel in Sylvester v. Boissiere,

Appearing on behalf of Advancement Project and the Grassroots Legal Network
This is a clear-cut victory for the people In a long-standing battle waged by the most victimized population of the Katrina disaster against government entities and landlords around the right of the people to return home.
Victory has come.

Who sued who:

The Grassroots Legal Network along with the Loyola law Clinic, the Advancement Project, the People's Advocacy Center, and New Orleans legal Assistance (NOLAC) brought suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its component Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Orleans Parish, and Jefferson Parish on behalf of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund, UNITE-HERE Local 50-2, SEW Local 21, ACORN New Orleans, and individual tenants being victimized by landlords post¬Hurricane Katrina.

What the suit is about:
Plaintiffs focused their attack on the shabby procedure used by landlords to notify displaced renters of eviction proceedings-by "tacking" or posting up a sheet of paper on the door of displaced person's home. Plaintiffs declared that this notification procedure by "tacking" was not reasonably calculated to actually reach displaced tenants. Plaintiffs declared that this procedure denied them their basic constitutional right to due process and their human right to be able to return to their home.

The facts-what displaced people on the ground are actually facing:
Our lead plaintiff, Janeice Lisa Sylvester, an Orleans Parish resident, is a displaced tenant who got "tacked." After Hurricane Katrina, Ms. Sylvester was evacuated to laPlace, Louisiana, but came home to New Orleans on November 4, 2005 to check on her apartment. To her dismay and shock, she found all of her stuff out on the street and a notice for an eviction hearing set for November 3, 200S-the day before she was able to return to New Orleans!-tacked to her door. The worst part of it for Ms. Sylvester was that she had made an effort to tell her landlord where she had been evacuated to, but her landlord did not make any effort to contact her personally-even though her landlord knew where she was!-before going to court and evicting her.

What we won:
Because of the immense pressure that has been placed on the government and the landlords by the people, Plaintiffs were able to achieve the following result from this lawsuit:
(1) All evictions in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes are immediately stayed-meaning, all eviction proceedings in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes stop immediately against residents who are not in the area and whose whereabouts are unknown to landlords.
(2) Under the judge's order, FEMA is required, upon request, to provide to the Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, current contact information for the tenants who landlords are seeking to evict. Upon this contact information being provided by FEMA, the Parishes have to provide written notice of eviction to the tenants at the tenants' most current addresses. Tenants then have at least 45 days from the date of the mailing of the notice respond to the eviction action.

What this victory means:
This victory means that displaced people have an almost two-month reprieve from having to face loss of their personal property and their homes.
This victory also means that for the first time FEMA has finally agreed to provide information to protect survivors. This is huge.

But overall, this case is just another step that the Grassroots Legal Network has taken to bring recognition that people who have suffered the worst impact by the natural and government disaster of Hurricane Katrina have a right to return to their homes.

Winning this stop to evictions for almost two months provides the opportunity for legal advocates and grassroots people to file additional lawsuits for wrongful evictions that deny people their right to return.
Finally, this victory also provides an opportunity for political and social rights activists to organize with grassroots people to assert pressure on those in power to respect their humanity.

Thanks go out to:
    •     All the members of the legal team: Judith Browne, Bill Quigley, Judson Mitchell, Miles Granderson, Carol Sobel, Marc Moreau.
•    The People's Hurricane Relief Fund and their volunteers.
•    From the Lake to the River Coalition for their help in investigating this claim.
And the greatest thanks goes to the people for raising their voices and being heard.