HOUMA, La. — A full week after Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana, Houma Highland Apartments popped a notice into the inboxes of its residents telling them to vacate immediately.
“I never thought, living in an apartment, that I could get an email, and I'm gone,” Ben Toups said.
Toups has lived here for nine years.
There are piles of branches and siding in the parking lot. Most roofs have damage, but he and his wife say they have no damage in their unit and want to stay.
“I'm not telling you you've got to haul me out of here with handcuffs, but I'm safe here,” Toups said. “I've got water. I've got shelter. I'm safe here. I'm not going to leave unless I'm absolutely forced to leave.”
Houma Highlands Apartments is owned by ECI Group out of Atlanta. They didn't respond to our request for comment, but like other landlords they may have to answer to a judge.
“It's ok to freak out, but you don't have to freak out,” Attorney Hannah Adams with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services said.
Adams says even if you get a notice to get out, you have the right to go through the legal eviction process in the court.
“Whether or not your landlord has an ability to terminate your lease after a storm really has to do with how substantial the damage is,” Adams said. “If there place is totally destroyed, they probably have a right to terminate your lease.”
If you can still live there, you likely have a right to stay.
Adams says to document everything. Take lots of photos, whether there’s damage or not. Communicate with your landlord in writing, like text or email. Let them know if you've evacuated and plan to come back. And try to work together.
“It's a really good time, as much of this as possible, for landlords and tenants to try to work together and be in communication with each other,” Adams said.
That's what Toups did – meeting in-person with his building's corporate leaders. He didn't get the ok to stay.
But after Ida took his parents’ home in Cutoff, he sees the big picture.
“We don't want sympathy,” Toups said. “A little empathy would be nice, but people lost their home. We'll figure it out, but there are people in worse situations than us.”
If you're finding yourself in an eviction situation thanks to Ida, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services may be able to help. Visit their website here or call their legal aid hotline at 1-844-244-7871.