Forced to “Wrap Themselves in Blankets to Stay Warm” After Landlord Cuts off Family’s Power, Water

Courtesy of Attorney William Most.

Author’s Note: This piece is the third in a series called “Slumlord City: How New Orleans Rentals are Failing Working Families.” 

This story is about a landlord who decided to take an eviction into her own hands. Harassing tenants to force them to vacate the premises is illegal, but this practice is all too common in New Orleans. 

You can read part two of “Slumlord City” here.

Even before COVID-19, the year 2020 was off to a rough start for Julia Busch. On January 7, Ms. Busch’s fiancé passed away, leaving her alone with her son. 

Busch paid rent the following month, but on February 10, her apartment was sold to Kara Breithaupt, a realtor who owns Snap Realty. Busch knew that she would have to vacate the apartment, but she also knew that there was a legal eviction process required before she and her minor son could be forced out. 

Then the harassment began. 

According to a lawsuit filed by Ms. Busch on May 6, a man identified as Breithaupt’s boyfriend, Robert Rogers, began a “campaign of harassment” against Ms. Busch. She received a slew of text messages, calls, and in-person threats. 

In the cold month of February, Busch’s power was turned off. Rogers had called Entergy and allegedly told them the property was abandoned. The family was left without heat, warm water, and air conditioning. 

Ms. Busch had the electricity restored, but then matters only got worse. 

On February 20, Mr. Rogers visited the property and sawed through the water supply line with a hacksaw. Now the mother and her child could not bathe or drink. 

Courtesy of Attorney William Most.

This was captured on video and shared on Twitter over 1,000 times, receiving almost 200,000 views.

Even after being caught on camera, Breithaupt and Rogers would not relent. 

Rogers did not stop there. He shut the power off himself, and then put a padlock on the circuit box, so the family could not turn their electricity back on. 

When they opened the box to restore their power, Rogers returned, with a drill and a saw, to remove the breakers. This was also captured on video.

Courtesy of Attorney William Most.

Ms. Busch and her son were in a living hell. 

According to attorney William Most, who is representing the family, Busch and her son had to “wrap themselves in blankets to stay warm.” In order to use the toilet, they had to borrow buckets of water from their neighbors, just so it would flush

Breithaupt refused to apologize for putting the family through this traumatic experience. Instead, she claimed, through her attorney, that she was trying to “fix” the plumbing when her boyfriend sawed through the supply line.

Finally, Busch was served with a motion for possession of property on February 28, and they moved out the next day. 

Attorney Most says that Louisiana law is clear on these issues: What Breithaupt and Rogers did was not only wrong, it was also against the law.

So-called “self-help evictions” are illegal in Louisiana, unless the property has actually been abandoned. “A landlord cannot disturb the possession of the tenant in any way without first resorting to the judicial process,” the suit reads. 

Under Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 4701, tenants must be given at least five days to move out after they are given a notice to vacate. Then, if they do not leave, the landlord must obtain a court order requiring the tenant to vacate. 

Breithaupt eventually honored the legal process, but not before waging a massive war of attrition against a mother and child. 

According to Mr. Most, Breithaupt and Rogers committed illegal trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unfair trade practices, and they breached Busch’s right to peaceful possession. 

In Louisiana, Civil Code Article 2682 requires a landlord to “protect the lessee’s peaceful possession for the duration of the lease.” Additionally, landlords must guarantee that peaceful possession against people who claim ownership. Because no rule for possession was filed until February 28, all actions taken before that date were illegal self-help evictions. 

In New Orleans, rogue landlords often flout the law, taking extreme measures to force tenants to leave the properties they have leased. “Evictions without court process, such as this one, are not only illegal, but also subject tenants to unnecessary trauma and disruption,” attorney David Lanser said.

“There is no good reason to treat our communities with such callousness.” 

There is good reason that it is illegal to shut off a tenant’s utilities. Tenants could be using vital medical equipment that run on power. During months of extreme weather, tenants could die from excessive heat or freeze to death. Water and power are considered essential utilities.

The new landlords who greeted Ms. Busch and her son made a mockery of their right to live without fear. Too often in New Orleans, landlords show nothing but callousness to the people who depend on them for a place to live. 

Ms. Busch and her son will have their day in court. But the damage has already been done. For weeks, in the cold , Ms. Busch and her son went without power, water, and heating. 

No judge or lawyer can undo the trauma of a landlord who decides to take the law into their own hands.

Big Easy Magazine has reached out to the attorney for Ms. Breithaupt and Mr. Rogers for comment and will update accordingly.

You can read Ms. Busch’s lawsuit here.

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