September 2020 Newsletter

 

 

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From the Executive Director

The past few months have been a whirlwind for SLLS. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our community has been devastating, and widespread. Our housing caseload has tripled, and as COVID relief programs end thousands of families are at-risk of becoming homeless. We’ve seen a 670% increase in requests for legal help with unemployment benefits, as many suddenly out of work families who never thought they would need civil legal aid are reaching out for our assistance. As we saw with Hurricane Katrina, this is only the beginning of a long crisis.

Everyday our team is fighting for the rights of some of our community’s most vulnerable families. I am proud of the work they have accomplished in the midst of crisis. Thank you for your support in making the fight for fairness possible.

Laura Tuggle

Executive Director


SLLS Receives COVID-19 Relief Fund Donations for Critical Legal Aid

We were one of only 25 recipients of Hancock Whitney’s COVID-19 housing relief funds, aimed to keep vulnerable families across the Gulf South in their homes during the pandemic. Their generous donation will help cover the cost of an attorney providing legal assistance for evictions and rental assistance for 140 low income families impacted by COVID-19.

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We are thrilled to be recent recipients of Humana Medicaid’s COVID-19 Relief Fund! With these funds, our new COVID-19 Intake Specialist will streamline our processes to meet the increased community need for our services in these unprecedented times. We are grateful to have Humana as a partner in the ongoing work to make our community a healthier and safer place for all its members.


Virtual Legal Clinics with New Orleans Public Library

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We are excited to announce our new partnership with the New Orleans Public Library to host free virtual legal clinics twice a month with a focus on assisting low-income families and individuals with civil legal issues, including evictions, landlord-tenant disputes, federal tax issues, employment, public benefits, foreclosures, bankruptcies and divorces.

The clinic is held the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month. Library users can sign up to be screened for an appointment online here, or call the Rosa F. Keller Library & Community Center at (504) 596-2660 or Nora Navra Library at (504) 596-3118, from 10 a.m. — 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.


The SLLS Team is Growing!

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have welcomed 10 new staff members to our team. We are excited about the skills and expertise they are bringing to the table to help us meet the moment for vulnerable families in our community. You can learn more about our new staff, and their roles on the SLLS Blog.

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SLLS Hosts Two Prestigious Summer Fellowships

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Auriana Siplin, a Southern University Law Center student, was selected for Equal Justice Work’s Rural Summer Legal Corps (RSLC). The program connects Student Fellows with LSC-funded civil legal aid organizations to help address the access-to-justice crisis for people living in rural areas. Auriana has been working with our Baton Rouge office on rural community outreach. You can learn more about the RSLC here.

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James Petersen was selected as one of three John J. Curtin, Jr. Fellowship recipients this summer. The fellowship is designed to prevent homelessness, or assist homeless or indigent clients or their advocates and provide much-needed legal assistance to organizations serving the under-represented. James has been working with our legal clinic at One Stop Homeless Services Center in Baton Rouge. You can learn more about the Curtin Fellowship here.


Thank You Summer Law Clerks!

For the past few months SLLS has hosted 32 summer law clerks from Loyola, Tulane, and Southern. They served remotely this summer, working with our attorneys to serve clients and gain practical legal experience. They did a wonderful job adjusting to the remote working experience, and we are grateful for their service!

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STIMULUS PAYMENTS FOR SSI, SOCIAL SECURITY, AND VA RECIPIENTS

Updated October 7, 2020

[AN UPDATED FLOWCHART WILL BE ADDED SOON]

*Important Deadline to Note:

If you are eligible to use the non-filer portal, the deadline to claim your stimulus payment has been extended until November 21, 2020. The non-filer portal is designed for people with incomes typically below $24,400 for married couples, and $12,200 for singles who could not be claimed as a dependent by someone else.

What can go wrong?

1.  DO NOT USE NONFILER PORTAL IF YOU FILED TAXES IN 2018 OR 2019. This may cause problems with the IRS and may delay your check.

2. AVOID SCAMS: There are many scammers out there trying to take people’s Stimulus checks. Some people may phone you, promising your Stimulus check, trying to get your bank account or debit card information or other things they can use to steal your money. Government agencies will never call you about the Stimulus checks. Never give bank, debit card, or Social Security information to anyone who calls you.

3. DO NOT PUT THE MONEY INTO A BANK ACCOUNT
THAT HAS A GARNISHMENT ORDER AGAINST IT. After a court judgment that someone owes a debt, the court can order the money can be taken from the debtor’s bank account. SSI money cannot be taken even if there is an order like this. But the stimulus money can be taken. Be sure not to give the IRS deposit information for an account of yours or someone else’s that is being “garnished.” If your account is garnished, you may want to wait much longer to get a paper check.

4. Some SSDI beneficiaries may need to file taxes; in limited circumstances they are considered taxable.

DO NOT PAY ANYONE TO HELP YOU GET THE STIMULUS CHECK. This could take most of your money (or even all of it). As noted above, there are free ways to do what you need on the IRS website, and a free organization to help.

 

A new phone number was created for Economic Impact Payments. Taxpayers can call 800-919-9835, between the hours of 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM local time, with questions related to the payment. Taxpayers may also refer to www.irs.gov/coronavirus tax relief and economic impact payments for additional information.

 

Southeast Louisiana Legal Services is a nonprofit law firm whose mission is to achieve justice for low-income people in Louisiana by enforcing and defending their legal rights through civil legal aid, advocacy, and community education. We provide free legal help to low-income people in a variety of civil legal matters including divorce, custody, tax, consumer, foreclosure, bankruptcy, unemployment benefits, housing, public benefits, and more.

You can find more information at slls.org.

FAQ for Landlords

FAQ: What should I do if my tenant can’t pay rent during the Covid-19 crisis?

Information for landlords

Please note: This FAQ is current as of June 5, 2020. Nothing in this FAQ should be construed as legal advice.

Has the law changed my tenant’s obligation to pay rent?

No, as of the date of this writing, the law has not canceled or forgiven your tenant’s rent obligation.

However, you have the ability with the consent of your tenant to amend your lease to forgive or reduce your tenant’s rent obligation for one or more months during the Covid-19 crisis. You do not need to redo your entire lease, you can just make an agreement that modifies your lease by text message or email (make sure the exchange shows the consent of both parties) or in writing on a piece of paper (make sure the writing has signatures from you and your tenant). Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act passed on March 27, 2020 you may qualify for loan forbearance or other relief if your mortgage is federally backed. You may have a forbearance option to extend the term of your loan without interest or penalties, so that you have no mortgage payment due during a particular month. Especially if you have this relief, you may consider forgiving or reducing your tenant’s rent obligation.

You also have the ability to extend the deadline for rent payment or let the tenant catch up on their rent using a payment plan. Many tenants have lost jobs due to Covid-19, but will eventually be receiving stimulus payments from the IRS or expanded unemployment benefits in the coming weeks. The City of New Orleans and other local governments may have rental assistance funds. It is unpredictable when these payments will hit, but it may be in your best interest to wait for your tenant to get relief so that you can ultimately get paid.

Can I charge late fees under my lease if my tenant does not pay rent on time?

It depends on whether your property is covered by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, more commonly called the Stimulus bill or third federal coronavirus Act. The CARES Act prohibits charging late fees or other penalties for rent that is late between March 27, 2020 and July 25, 2020. It applies to you if your property is:

  1. Your property has a federally-backed mortgage such as an FHA insured mortgage, a mortgage assisted or guaranteed by HUD, VA, or USDA, or a mortgage that Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac are involved in.
  2. Your property “participates in” a federal subsidy program covered by the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) including:
  • The Housing Choice (“Section 8”) Voucher program
  • Public housing
  • Section 8 project-based housing
  • HUD-subsidized housing for seniors or people with disabilities
  • Permanent Supportive Housing or Shelter + Care
  • Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (“HOPWA”)
  • HOME Investment Partnership Program
  • S. Dept. of Agriculture multifamily housing subsidy programs
  • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (“LIHTC”) Program
  1. Your property “participates in” the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing Voucher Program.

You can read Section 4024 of the CARE Act at https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/748/text.

How do I know what kind of mortgage I have and therefore if I am covered by the CARES Act?

 You might not know whether your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, but you can look it up at one of these websites or numbers:

Fannie Mae: https://www.knowyouroptions.com/loanlookup

Freddie Mac: https://ww3.freddiemac.com/loanlookup/

Fannie Mae (FNMA): 1-800-2FANNIE (1-800-232-6643)

Freddie Mac (FHLMC): 1-800-FREDDIE (1-800-373-3343)

You are likely to know if you have a loan mortgage backed by any of these federal programs, but if you are unsure you can check your loan paperwork and/or call:

FHA: 1-877-622-8525

USDA direct or guaranteed loan: 1-800-414-1226

VA loan, direct or guaranteed loan: 1-877-827-3702

If you have a multifamily property you can look the property up on this database (but it lists only some of the covered multi-family properties): https://nlihc.org/federal-moratoriums

Can I evict my tenant if they do not pay rent? 

Currently, there is a statewide moratorium on evictions until June 15, 2020. No matter what kind of property you have, you cannot evict your tenant until after that date. Note that per the Governor’s proclamations, all legal deadlines are suspended from March 16, 2020 until at least June 15, 2020. This means if you gave your tenant a notice to vacate after March 16, or if the notice period was interrupted on March 16, you cannot file right away because the notice period was suspended, or frozen, on March 16. Remember that the 5-day notice to vacate period does not include weekends or holidays.

For example, if you gave your tenant a 5-day notice to vacate on March 15, only one day of the notice period ran before the Governor’s suspension. So you need to allow four more legal days after the suspension lifts on June 15 before you can file the eviction. This means the first day you can file the eviction at court would be June 19.

Similarly, if you gave a 5-day notice to vacate any time on or after March 16, the notice period does not begin to run until June 15. Since weekends don’t count, the first day you can file the eviction at court would be June 22.

If your property is covered by the CARES Act, as discussed above, you are barred from filing an eviction against your tenant for nonpayment of rent or fees until after July 25, 2020. After July 25, 2020 you must provide a 30-day notice under the federal law.

You can read Section 4024 of the CARES Act at https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/748/text.

Can I issue my tenant a Notice to Vacate if they do not pay rent?

If your property is a “covered property” under the CARES Act, as defined above, you are barred from issuing a Notice to Vacate until after July 25, 2020. After July 25, 2020 you must provide a 30-day notice under the CARES Act.

You can read Section 4024 of the CARES Act at https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/748/text.

Can I put my tenant out by other means since I can’t file an eviction right now?

Absolutely not. “Self help” or extrajudicial evictions are illegal in Louisiana. You must get a court judgment of eviction and a Warrant for Possession (sometimes called a Writ of Ejection) unless your tenant voluntarily leaves. If you take any action to force your tenant out or disturb their use of their lease through changing the locks, cutting off utilities, physically removing their belongings, or harassing them until they leave, you may be liable for substantial damages for wrongful eviction. Law enforcement officers do not have jurisdiction to put your tenant out without an eviction judgment.

How should I communicate with my tenant if they cannot pay rent?

Keep lines of communication with your tenant open and amicable if possible. These are stressful times for everyone. Your tenant may get financial relief soon and be able to start making payments. Since you cannot evict right now, it’s in everyone’s best interest to work together. Be sure that any agreement you and your tenant come up with is in writing and something written or electronic shows it was agreed to by both parties.

What if I can’t pay my mortgage because my tenant doesn’t pay their rent?

Luckily, there are forbearance and other relief options available to you, too. Foreclosures are temporarily halted for many homeowners under the CARES Act. For detailed information about relief options for homeowners see https://slls.org/covid_foreclosure_prevention/

Property owners with lost rental income may also be able to qualify for assistance from the Community Support Fund of the Finance Authority of New Orleans. To apply for FANO’s CSF assistance, residents should call (504) 524-5533, (504) 354-0904, or email: csf@financeauthority.org. Applicants will be pre-screened to determine basic eligibility and will receive notice of the documentation needed to qualify for the program.

FAQ: FAMILY LAW DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS

Current as of June 14, 2020

Are Louisiana Courts open?

Most legal deadlines in Louisiana are suspended through July 5, 2020 and most family law courts are only hearing emergency cases such as:

Some matters may be filed remotely (by fax, mail, or e-filing). Your local court may have a longer list of matters being heard and accepted.

Are Louisiana court deadlines extended?

Yes. Other than the emergency matters above, all family law deadlines are automatically extended through at least July 5, 2020. Action will be required come July 6, 2020. The Court may contact you or your attorney if your case is currently scheduled for a hearing or status conference. Most non-emergency matters will be rescheduled. You can always call the court directly for an update on your case.

For more details and updates about the extended deadlines, please check our COVID-19 resources at https://slls.org/faq-for-legal-deadlines-during-the-covid-19-crisis/ or consult an attorney.

What if I have an emergency that needs a court order?

All major courts should be open in some way for emergencies, including but not limited to civil protection/restraining orders, emergency custody matters, and stopping illegal evictions. If you believe you have an emergency or cannot get access to the court, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS) may be able to assist or advise for free. Please call one of the numbers at the bottom of this flyer for more information.

Someone abused me or my children. How can I get help?

If you believe you or your children are in immediate danger, you can still request a restraining order. Louisiana Protection Order Forms are available on most court websites. If you need a restraining/protection order, or cannot get access to the forms, SLLS may be able to assist or advise for free. See the numbers at the bottom of this flyer for the number to call in your area.

I need an emergency custody order for my children. What should I do?

This is an emergency that the courts should be open for. SLLS may be able to assist or advise for free. Please call one of the numbers at the bottom of this FAQ.

My protection or restraining order is expiring. What should I do?

All protection and restraining orders are extended through at least July 5, 2020. Also, some Louisiana courts have extended their protection and restraining orders longer.

Please be aware that the police or sheriffs may not know about this extension, and your abuser probably does not know about the extension either. If you are having any issues, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services may be able to assist or advise for free. Please call one of the numbers at the bottom of this flyer.

Contact numbers to apply for free help from Southeast Louisiana Legal Services:

Many organizations locally and around the country remain open to help you with your needs, from counseling services to emergency shelter or help with filing for a protective order. Because of Covid-19, many services normally available in person are available by phone or video chat. There are 24/7 domestic violence hotlines including:

Metro Center for Community Advocacy Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John, St. James Parishes 1-504-837-5400
Safe Harbor St. Tammany, Washington Parishes 1-985-626-5740
SAFE Tangipahoa, Livingston, St. Helena, Washington Parishes 1-985-542-8384
The Haven Houma area (Terrebonne, Lafourche, Assumption Parishes) 1-800-915-0045 or 1-800-777-8868
IRIS Baton Rouge area 1-225-389-3001
New Orleans Family Justice Center/Crescent house New Orleans area 1-504-866-9554 or 1-504-592-4005
STAR New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Central Louisiana areas 1-855-435-STAR
Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence All of Louisiana 1-888-411-1333
National Domestic Violence Hotline United States 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-799-7233, or log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522

If any of these resources are no longer available, please call our COVID-19 Hotline (1-844-244-7871) to let us know and so we can connect you to other resources.

FAQ: Can I get out of my lease during the Covid-19 Crisis?

Current As of April 20, 2020. This is a rapidly changing situation. Please check back for updated information.

During the Covid-19 crisis, some tenants may need to terminate their lease agreements early due to health issues, safety concerns, family caregiving responsibilities, or changed financial situations. This FAQ addresses risks and options for terminating your lease agreement early, otherwise known as “breaking your lease.”

Please note that some of the information in this FAQ is specific to Louisiana law and may not be applicable in other jurisdictions.

Has the law changed to allow me to break my lease during Covid-19?

As of the date of this writing, the law has not changed to make it easier for you to get out of a lease agreement due to the Covid-19 crisis. However, you may have some options under existing law.

What are the risks of breaking my lease?

If you move out before the end of your lease, most leases say your landlord can keep your security deposit.

If you move out before the end of your lease, your landlord could also try to charge you the rent due for the remainder of the lease term. For example, if you move out three months into a year lease, the landlord could try to charge you the remaining seven months of rent even though you would not be living there anymore.

Your landlord does have a “duty to mitigate damages” under the law, meaning they have to try to re-rent the apartment.

There are three ways your landlord could pursue the remainder of the rent due under the lease:

  1. Your landlord could sue you, probably in small claims court, for the balance of rent due under the lease.
  2. If you try to sue your landlord for your security deposit, your landlord could counter-sue for the rent due under the lease.
  3. Larger landlords might be able to report a debt to the credit bureaus or consumer reporting companies, which could come up when you apply for a future apartment.

If your landlord sues you, you have a right to defend yourself in court. If your landlord reports a debt to the credit bureaus, you have a right to contest it. It is important to create a paper trail to protect yourself in case either of these things happens.

What are my options for getting out of my lease early?

Note: There is no court or administrative proceeding you can go through to get out of your lease in Louisiana. However, you can create a good paper trail in case your landlord tries to hold you liable for breaking your lease. The letters and documentation suggested below could be shown to a judge in the event that the matter ends up in court. Please note a judge will make a final decision on whether you broke your lease for a legally valid reason, and there is no way to guarantee a final result.

Option 1:

Your first option is to speak to the landlord and ask if they would be willing to end the lease early. If they will agree to let you leave the lease early you should get the agreement in writing and you and the landlord should sign it. If your landlord signs an agreement ending your lease early you may still be able to get your security deposit back. 

Sample early lease termination amendment

Option 2:

Read through your lease. If there is a section that includes the words “force majeure” or “act of god,” see if that section gives you the option to break the lease in the event of an unforeseen event outside of your control like a hurricane or pandemic. If there is a clause like this, bring it to your landlord’s attention and/or write a letter explaining that you are terminating your lease agreement early based on this clause. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.

Option 3:

If you lost income due to Covid-19 and it is impossible for you to meet your obligations under the lease, you may be able to make an argument under La. Civil Code article 1873. This law can be used when it is “impossible” to do what you agreed to do in your lease, like paying rent. Specifically, the law states “An obligor is not liable for his failure to perform when it is caused by a fortuitous event that makes performance impossible.” In other words, due to an event beyond your control (in this case the COVID-19 pandemic), you can no longer work and so cannot pay the rent you agreed to pay.

Issues that will stop this argument from working:

  • Read through your lease. If it says in the lease that you the tenant “assume the risk of such a fortuitous event” then you may not try this argument.
  • If you were already behind on rent before the COVID-19 crisis began then you may not try this argument.
  • If you are getting expanded unemployment benefits and/or a stimulus check, it may not be impossible for you to pay your rent, and therefore article 1873 might not apply.

Sample Article 1873 letter

Option 4:

The Fair Housing Act requires that a landlord provide a “reasonable accommodation,” or exception to normal rules and policies, for a person with disabilities, when they need the accommodation as a result of their disability. 42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(3)(B).

A disability is a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

An accommodation is reasonable if it does not cause the landlord an “undue administrative or financial burden,” i.e. if it does not cost the landlord too much money and or time and effort.

If you have Covid-19 or an underlying chronic health condition that make you more vulnerable to Covid-19 infection, like diabetes, a respiratory condition, or an immune system disorder, and you need to move to avoid possible infection or seek medical treatment, you could request early lease release as a reasonable accommodation for you disability.

If you have anxiety, depression, or other mental health disabilities, and the you need to move because your disability has been aggravated by your current living situation, you could request an early lease release as a reasonable accommodation

Note: You do not need documentation from a medical professional to make the initial reasonable accommodation request. But the landlord is entitled to ask for verification of your disability and the need for an accommodation if it is not obvious to them. If your landlord asks for verification, you must be able to show documentation from a qualified professional - a doctor, nurse, social worker, or therapist – stating that you have a disability and need to get out of your lease early because of your disability. Your landlord is usually not entitled to detailed medical records.

Sample Form tenant reasonable accommodation letter Covid-19

Sample Reasonable Accommodation Qualified Professional Letter

For more information about fair housing protections and reasonable accommodation click here 

Option 5:

Quarantine and “shelter in place” can be a dangerous time for survivors of domestic violence.

If your home is unsafe for you because of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault, and you live in government-subsidized housing like Section 8, public housing, or tax credit housing, you may have a right to transfer to a new apartment. The law that allows you to move for safety reasons is the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”).

When you request the transfer, you may be required to provide verification in the form of:

  • A HUD certification form that you sign; HUD 5382 Form
  • A document signed by a service provider, attorney, medical professional, social worker, or therapist stating you are a survivor of domestic violence;
  • A protective order; or
  • A police report.

If your home is unsafe for you because of domestic violence and you rent from a private landlord and pay full rent (you don’t have a government subsidy), you may be able to get out of your lease early if you need to move for safety reasons.

The Louisiana Violence Against Women Act (“LAVAWA”) covers “domestic abuse” which is abuse involving a family member, defined as a spouse, former spouse, parent, child, stepparent, stepchild, foster parent, and foster child. The law only covers you if you live in a property with six or more units, or ten or more units if the landlord lives there too. See La. Revised Statute 9:3261.1.

In order to move early, you must write your landlord a letter requesting to end the lease early and include a copy of:

  • A protective order, OR
  • A police report, OR
  • A form signed under penalty of perjury by a victim service provider, an attorney, medical professional, or a mental health professional certifying that you are a survivor of domestic violence.

The form referenced above is here: Sample LAVAWA certification form

You and the landlord must agree upon a day for you to move out. That day must be within 30 days of the landlord getting the letter you sent them asking to end the lease early.

If you have any questions or need further assistance go to our website (www.slls.org) or contact our COVID-19 AID HOTLINE at 1-844-244-7871.

Today, marks one month since the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Louisiana. Our lives have changed in ways that were unfathomable before  now. The impact of the pandemic has been especially severe in southeast Louisiana where so many of tens of thousands of people who lost their jobs worked in low-paying jobs, doing gig work, or in the hospitality industry. Before this crisis, they had little money left at the end of each month. Now they’ve survived weeks with no to little income combined with no job prospects. Even people lucky enough to receive Louisiana unemployment benefits have gotten at most only $249 per month, one of the lowest unemployment benefit rates in the country.

While new federal programs created through the CARES Act and changes made through the Governor’s emergency orders will provide relief for many, it may be months before some in our community receive the help they need. Yet day-to-day needs like food, housing, and medical care will not wait for unemployment checks or stimulus funds to arrive. Low-income and other vulnerable residents often bear a disproportionate share of the impacts of disasters as they struggle to make ends meet for their families and keep a roof over heads.

Thanks to supporters like you, SLLS continues to fight hard for the low- income people impacted by COVID-19. Our advocacy helped suspend evictions in both private and publicly funded housing – ensuring that low-income tenants could be safe in their homes during the crisis. Though all evictions in our state are illegal through April 30, 2020, many tenants have contacted us, fearful that they still will end up on the street with some landlords cutting off their utilities, locking them out of their homes, throwing their belongings on the street, and engaging in other threatening actions. We continue to represent these tenants – advocating for them with their landlords and filing restraining orders in court when needed. Your support has made it possible to keep many of the tenants in their homes.

 

 

Click on the links below to read more stories about our work and the experiences of the people we serve:

In addition to providing free legal advice and representation to our clients, SLLS has been working hard to provide reliable legal information to everyone.  Federal, state, and local governments are creating new programs, changing program rules, and adjusting procedures quickly to try to curb the effects of the COVID-19. The speed of these changes has resulted in general confusion and rampant public misinformation  To address this problem, SLLS has published Know Your Rights resources on several topics available at https://slls.org/news/blog/.  We will continue to update and add to these resources throughout the crisis.

SLLS also launched a series of Facebook Live Sessions on COVID-19. You can find the Facebook Live Sessions listed by below by CLICKING HERE. You can also watch the sessions by clicking on the images below.

 

Foreclosure Protection during COVID-19

Are you a homeowner who lost income because of COVID-19? Are you worried about how you'll make mortgage payments? Are you anxious you might lose your home?

This Facebook Live Session featuring Anthony Sartorio, Managing Attorney of SLLS's Foreclosure Prevention Unit, discusses homeowner's rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Tenant’s Rights

You can't pay your rent- what should you do? SLLS Staff Attorney Hannah Adams talks about the current state of evictions in Louisiana, what to do if your landlord illegally locks you out, and how to talk to your landlord about April rent.

 

Avoiding Common Tax Scams

Paul Tuttle, Director of the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, discusses Coronavirus/Covid-19 related tax issues and also avoiding common tax scams.

 

Unemployment Benefits

Have you lost your job because COVID-19? Are you trying to get Louisiana unemployment benefits? SLLS Attorney Julia Jack will discuss how to apply for benefits and what to do if your application is denied. She'll also discuss new benefits available under the CARES ACT.

 

Current topics are available at https://slls.org/news/blog/ include resources to help:

  • Homeowners
    • Foreclosure Prevention
  • People Who Need to Access Food for their Families
    • SNAP (Food Stamps)
    • March and April Food Stamps (SNAP) Benefit Increase
    • Getting and Paying for Food
  • Workers
    • Unemployment Compensation
  • Tenants
    • Tenant's Rights
    • Can I be Evicted from a Hotel during COVID-19 (English and Spanish)
    • How to Talk to Your Landlord when You Can’t Pay Rent
  • People with Disabilities
    • Veteran Affairs
    • Social Security Benefits
  • People worried about Access to Healthcare
    • Louisiana Medicaid Cutoffs
  • Everyone
    • Legal Deadlines During COVID-19
    • What does the March 2020 Federal Disaster Declaration Mean for Me?

Adult SSI recipients and the Stimulus Money

Foreclosure Prevention FAQ

Current as of September 28, 2020.

1. I cannot pay or am behind on my mortgage, but have NOT been served with court papers, can my lender foreclose on me during the COVID crisis?

(If you missed the sheriff’s attempt to serve you, there could already be a foreclosure judgment against you. See the question about having missed service, further below.)

If you wait until a foreclosure court suit is filed against you, it will usually cost thousands more to save your home. It is best to act now to pursue options to save your home.

The courts have reopened and therefore foreclosure cases can be filed and conducted at this time.  You can call the state “District Court” for the parish you live in to see if a suit has been filed against you. (If you live in Baton Rouge, you also need to check with the Baton Rouge City Court.)

If a foreclosure suit has been filed, it is better for you to find out and be involved in the suit than to just let the court issue a judgment against your home. See the question below for people who have a foreclosure court case filed against them for more important information.

However, if your mortgage is under any of the following federal programs, your lender cannot start or proceed with a foreclosure until at least December 31, 2020:

  • FHA
  • Fannie Mae (FNMA)
  • Freddie Mac (FHLMC)
  • USDA direct or guaranteed loan
  • VA loan, direct or guaranteed loan

If I am not sure if my mortgage is with one of the federal programs above, how do I find out?

  • You can look for this information in all the papers you received when you went to closing on the loan (e.g., the documents you received when you signed the mortgage and mortgage note when you first got the loan), or
  • You can also call the federal programs directly to check at the numbers below:
    • FHA - 1-877-622-8525
    • Fannie Mae (FNMA) - 1-800-2FANNIE (1-800-232-6643)
    • Freddie Mac (FHLMC) - 1-800-FREDDIE (1-800-373-3343)
    • USDA direct or guaranteed loan - 1-800-414-1226
    • VA loan, direct or guaranteed loan - 1-877-827-3702

Also see the section below about help in paying your loan.

2. I missed or avoided the sheriff who is trying to serve papers. Is my home safe?

No. If you are far behind on your mortgage, a court suit could have already been filed.

If the sheriff missed you for service several times, the court may have appointed an attorney to accept the court service for you, and the court can or may have taken action without you knowing about it.

You can call the state “District Court” for the parish you live in to see if a suit has been filed against you. (If you live in Baton Rouge, you also need to check with the Baton Rouge City Court.)

If a foreclosure suit has been filed:

  • It is better for you to find out and be involved in the suit than to just let the court issue a judgment against your home.
  • If you act before the court appoints an attorney to accept service for you or they start to work, it may also save you from having $500 or more added to what you owe on your house.
  • See the question below for people who have a foreclosure court case filed against them for more important information.

3. Can I get help to afford my loan?

You can ask your mortgage company to “work with you” to extend payments or for a repayment plan:

  • You should be careful about understanding the terms of any forbearance (e.g., delay in payments), extension, or option if you are granted one.
  • Some forbearances move payments to the end of the entire loan period. (For example, after the entire remaining years of a 30-year mortgage term.)
  • Others require immediate payment of the delinquent amount at the end of the delay. (For example, immediately after the 3 or however many months delay that you get.)
  • You should keep written proof from your lender of any forbearance agreement.

If your mortgage is with one of the federal programs listed above:

  • You can request a forbearance (e.g., delay in payments) by submitting a request to your mortgage company explaining that you are having money problems due to the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Contact your servicer to see how they would like you to submit your forbearance request. We recommend submitting your request in writing and keeping proof of your submission for your own records.
  • Under the CAREs Act you may request this forbearance at any time during the “covered period.” However, the CARES Act does not define the covered period. It should last at least the duration of the COVID-19 emergency declared by the President on March 13, 2020.
  • However, if your loan is under the FHA or USDA Guaranteed Loan program you must submit your application for the initial 180 day forbearance period by October 30, 2020.
  • On receiving your request for forbearance, your mortgage company is required to delay your payments for 180 days.
  • You can request up to another 180 days during the COVID-19 emergency.
  • You can later request that the forbearance be shortened.
  • No fees, penalties, or interest beyond normal can be charged when your payments are made on time and in full on the new schedule. Normal interest will still be charged during the period.
  • These federal programs each have more options, too, that you can apply for to help avoid foreclosure. Consult your mortgage company about other options such as a repayment agreement or a loan modification. However, there is no guarantee you will be offered something or that it would be affordable for you.

If your mortgage is NOT with one of the federal programs listed above:

  • Some mortgage companies may still allow you a forbearance period due to financial hardship even if just a month or two. Sometimes they might not collect interest, due to the COVID-19 emergency.
  • This must be requested directly, often in writing, from your mortgage company.

Depending on your finances, filing a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy could stop any foreclosure and extend your payments. However, once the Bankruptcy repayment plan is in effect, your monthly payments will be higher than under your original loan. You should seek the advice of an attorney about filing a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, as a bankruptcy is a complicated legal proceeding that would be very difficult to manage without the help of an attorney.

To see if you can get free help dealing with repayment options to save your home, you can call Southeast Louisiana Legal Services to see if we can offer free help. You can apply for services by online at https://lastate.kempscaseworks.com/server/shared/a2jviewer.htm or by calling one of our offices.

  • Baton Rouge: 225-448-0080
  • Hammond: 985-345-2130
  • New Orleans: 504-529-1000

All numbers listed lead to the same few attorneys; only call one.

4. I have been served with court foreclosure papers. What do I need to do?

This depends on what the papers say.

If your court papers say they are a “writ for seizure and sale” or “notice of seizure and sale":

  • The court has already ordered the property be sold at sheriff sale.
  • You can appeal the foreclosure order within 15 days of when you were served with this paperwork. However, these appeals are expensive and most people cannot afford them. If you would like to try this option, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer immediately.
  • You should contact the sheriff for your parish by phone immediately to find out the date of the sale. This is the date when you may lose your home. See Question 5 “My property was already set for a foreclosure sale through sheriff’s auction.” for more information and your other options.

If your court papers say you have 15 days to file an “Answer” to the suit:

  • You must file an Answer or ask for an Extension of time to Answer within 15 days of being served with this paperwork or a court may be able to enter judgment against you.
  • Cases like this can require a lotof work or preparation. You should consider applying now for free legal help to save your home using the internet site or one of the phone numbers above.
  • Your “Answer” responding to the suit should not just respond to each claim made in the petition. The help of a lawyer is important because certain defenses are lost if not included in the answer. Some are not direct responses to what the other side’s papers say. A lawyer may also help see if you have a case against the mortgage company that you can add to the suit.

If your court papers say they are a "Judgment" or "Notice of Judgment:” 

 

  • The court has already ordered the property be sold at sheriff sale.

 

  • You can file a "motion for new trial" within 7 days from the day after the clerk has mailed or the sheriff has served you, the judgment or notice of judgment.   If you would like to try this option, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer immediately.

 

  • You can file a "suspensive appeal," an appeal that puts a hold on the sale of your home. If a timely motion for new trial was filed, the suspensive appeal would be due within 30 days from the court’s decision on that motion. The payment of a bond is required to file a suspensive appeal.  Because of this, these appeals are expensive and most people cannot afford them. If you would like to try this option, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer immediately.

 

  • *Please Note* A “default judgment” is a type of judgment giving the other side what they asked for in their lawsuit because you did not file an answer to contest their claims within 15 days of when you received their court papers. If your 15 days to answer expired between March 17th and July 5th, the time you had to answer was suspended until July 5th due to the COVID-19 emergency. If the judgment you received is a “default judgment” that was granted against you by the court between March 17, 2020 and July 5, 2020, it could be illegal.  If you believe this may have happened to you, you should seek the advice of an attorney right away. You can apply for free legal help by calling Southeast Louisiana Legal Services at the phone numbers listed above.

 

5. My property was already set for a foreclosure sale through sheriff’s auction.  

Any date listed on papers you received was subject to change. No one has to notify you if the date changes or changed. So regularly check on the sale date with the sheriff’s office.

Many parishes postponed foreclosure sheriff sale auctions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these auctions have resumed. Contact the sheriff for your parish by phone to see if sheriff sales have been delayed and continue to contact the sheriff's office for your parish on a regular basis to check if a new sale date has been set to make sure you’re aware of when you may lose your home.

6. What do I do if I receive a notice from the court, a Justice of the Peace, or a Constable?

If you receive a notice from a court, a Justice of the Peace, or a Constable, you should seek the advice of an attorney. You can apply for free legal help by calling Southeast Louisiana Legal Services at the phone numbers listed above.

 

 

Last updated May 19, 2020. This is a quickly changing situation. Please check back for details.

Can I apply for Disaster Food Stamps (DSNAP)?

No. While DSNAP was provided after previous federal disaster declarations, it has not been provided for this one. Instead changes have been made to regular SNAP.

I already receive SNAP benefits. What do I need to know about changes DCFS made in response to COVID-19?

I don’t have SNAP (food stamps) benefits yet. How do I apply?

The Louisiana Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) offices are closed to the public but workers are still working and processing applications. You cannot apply in person.

There are still two ways you can apply:

Submit any proof that you have on hand with your application. If you do not have a copier, you can take pictures of your documents on your phone and upload the pictures to your application. (more information on this below)

But if you do not have some, or even all, of the proof, file your application without it. The amount of money you get is based on your application date. So do not wait to file.

DCFS Economic Stability
P.O. Box 260031
Baton Rouge, LA 70826

Or, fax it to (225) 663-3164.

I can’t apply online and I can’t get through the phone lines to give them my application.

If you cannot submit your application online for some reason and cannot download a paper application, contact DCFS at 1-888-524-3578 or email them at LAHelpU.DCFS@la.gov. If you still cannot submit your application, you can call Southeast Louisiana Legal Services COVID-19 Hotline at 1-844-244-7871 to apply for free legal help.

What proof do I need to submit? And when do I need to submit it?

You need to give DCFS proof that you qualify for SNAP benefits. You can get your SNAP benefits faster if you turn the proof in at the same time you turn in your application.

But, if you don’t have the proof they need or don’t have a way to send the proof with your application, you can turn in your application first and then turn in the proof later. DCFS will contact you to let you know what proof you still need and will help you figure out a way to submit it. If you cannot get the proof, ask your DCFS worker for help. By law, the worker must try to help you if you ask. Make sure you keep copies of anything that you turn in. If you cannot get to a copy machine, you can also take pictures of proof on your phone.

Identity

You must prove the identity of the person who is turning in the application. This is the most important proof for you to give DCFS. You should turn it in with your application if you can. You cannot get benefits before you prove your identity.

Here are some things you can turn in to prove your identity. You only need one:

Other Proof

Here is a list of the other things you need to prove and what things you can use to prove them.

Note that some people can start getting their benefits before they turn in all of this proof. But you will need to turn them in later to keep getting benefits.

 

Social Security Number for all who will be receiving SNAP Copy of Social Security card or

Papers received at the hospital for a newborn

Alien status If not a US citizen, forms or cards from USCIS.

If someone who lives with you does not have legal residency in the US, you can choose not to include them in your SNAP application. Then you will not need to provide this information.

If someone has a green card, applying for SNAP benefits is NOT a factor the government will use for deciding whether to approve a citizenship application.

Earned income, if you have any Last four pay check stubs or employer statements for each person who works
Self-Employment, if you have any Income tax returns, sales records, quarterly tax records, personal wage record
Other income, if you have any: This could include child support, alimony, Social Security, SSI, VA, retirement checks, Unemployment Compensation Award letters

Court orders

Statements from contributors

Proof income stopped within the last 3 months Pink slip

Termination notice

Statement from former employer

Statement from any source of income saying that the income has ended

Medical expenses Receipts

Pharmacy printouts from the last 3 months

Doctor bills

Child support payments to someone outside your home Court order or other legal papers and proof that you are making payments – like cancelled checks or wage withholding statements

What happens next?

 

You can also find information about EBT cards at https://louisianalawhelp.org/resource/food-stamps-the-electronic-benefits-card?ref=9dubk

 

Tips for getting SNAP benefits quickly

How quickly can I get SNAP benefits?

Because of COVID-19, DCFS has received a large number of applications for benefits recently. So, there are delays for getting applications approved. However, by law, your food stamp application by law must be decided in 30 days, unless you have not turned in the needed proof.

Do I have to register for work to get SNAP benefits right now?

Most likely. Many of the people in Louisiana who receive SNAP benefits have to register for work. If you cannot work because you have physical or mental conditions that make you unfit for work, you should let your DCFS caseworker know.

Where can I get food while I’m waiting for DCFS to make its decision?

While you are waiting for DCFS to approve your SNAP application, you might be able to get food from a food pantry and other programs in our community. Read https://slls.org/food/ for more information.

How much will I get in SNAP benefits?

It depends. The amount you get is usually based on your household size, your income, and expenses. If you receive benefits for the month of April or May, you will get the full amount for your household size without any deductions. See https://slls.org/march-and-april-food-stamps-snap-benefit-increase/ for more information.

What if DCFS denies my application or cuts off my benefits?

You have a right to appeal DCFS’s decision. You can request a SNAP fair hearing by phone or in writing to your caseworker. Include your Name and Case/CAFÉ number (or SSN if case number is unknown) on your document.

DCFS Economic Stability

P.O. Box 260031

Baton Rouge, LA 70826

By Fax:  225-663-3164

If DCFS denies your application, reduces, or cuts off your benefits and you disagree with DCFS’s decision, you can call Southeast Louisiana Legal Services COVID-19 Hotline at 1-844-244-7871 to apply for free legal help.

For more information:

You can find more information about Louisiana SNAP at http://www.dcfs.louisiana.gov/page/snap#rights

For more information about DCFS’s response to COVID-19, visit http://www.dcfs.louisiana.gov/page/snap-covid19-response-faqs.

 

Last updated April 5, 2020. This is a quickly changing situation. Please check back for updates.

I need help getting or paying for food. What can I do?

If you’re having trouble getting or paying for food, here are some programs that might help. Please scroll down for more information.

Note: Because of COVID-19 some of these programs have changed some rules and how the programs work to support social distancing and help low-income people get the food they need.

 

SNAP (also known as “food stamps”)

 See: https://slls.org/snap/

Grab and Go meals at schools and other locations (see below) WIC (see below)

Other programs  (see below)

I lost my job or my hours were reduced because of COVID-19

 

I have children under 18 years old in my household

 

I’m pregnant or I am a mom with a child under 5 years old.

 

 

Can I apply for Disaster Food Stamps (DSNAP)

No. While DSNAP was provided after previous federal disaster declarations, DSNAP has not been provided for this one. Instead, changes have been made to regular SNAP. For information on regular SNAP as affected by Covid, go to https://slls.org/snap/.

Grab and Go meals at schools and other locations

Most schools and some other organizations are providing free meals for children under 18 years old. For most programs, a guardian over 18 years old can pick up the meals. Children do not need to be physically present.

You can find information about grab and go meals from schools here: https://cnp.doe.louisiana.gov/ServingSites/.

If you’re in Baton Rouge, you can get more information at https://www.brla.gov/2163/Free-Meal-Pickup-Sites-for-Children

If you’re in New Orleans, you can get more information at https://ready.nola.gov/home/#food

To find more Grab and Go locations, call 211.

WIC

WIC supports pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, infants, and children (under 5 years old). WIC provides a card to buy specific nutritious foods, nutrition information, breastfeeding promotion, breastfeeding support and referrals to other health and social services.

Most WIC clinics are still open. Due to current COVID-19 precautions, LA WIC clinics are allowing participants and/or caregivers to stay in their vehicles for appointments. Your information will be collected over the phone and a member of the staff will come out to your vehicle. Please bring your ID, WIC card (if you already have one), and all other required documents with you.

Visit http://ldh.la.gov/index.cfm/page/987 for more updated information about WIC during COVID-19.

Call 1.800.251.BABY to apply or to get more information.

Other Programs

During COVID-19 many local governments, nonprofit organizations, and businesses have programs to help people access the food they need. These include food pantries, other “grab and go” meal pick-up sites, and food delivery for seniors and people with disabilities.

Call 211 to find out about other programs that are available.

If you’re in the New Orleans or Baton Rouge regions and you need emergency food assistance, call 311.

If you’re in New Orleans, you also can visit: https://ready.nola.gov/home/#food