Two sides to every blight story

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 13, 2011



LAPLACE – Since taking office in 2010, St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom and her administration has been aggressive in either eliminating or securing blighted property in all parts of the parish, but one resident who owns property considered to be blighted says the system for demolishing derelict property was unfair to him.

Kenneth Adams, who owned a nine-room home on West 12th Street in Wallace, said his home was torn down in June because the parish considered the property blighted. (See Letter to the Editor, page 5A.) Adams admitted the outside façade of the den in the back of the house was torn apart by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but said the remainder of the house was still structurally sound. He said no one has lived in the house for at least six years.

“I just feel this was not a house that needed to be torn down,” Adams said. “I was in the process of tearing out the damaged portions of the home, but the older part of the house was secure. There are still many homes in that neighborhood that are in worse condition that are still standing.”

Adams said that if parish inspectors had looked at his home more thoroughly, they would have found the home was in good shape and not worthy of demolition.

“We walked inside and looked walls and ceilings,” Adams said. “There wasn’t any sort of water damage or anything like that. We would have liked someone to look at the inside before judging the outside.”

Parish officials tell a slightly different story. Angelic Sutherland, deputy CAO, who handles most of the blight cases for the parish, said the parish followed the proper procedure in handling Adams’ property.

Sutherland explained Adams’s property fell under code enforcement violation in January 2009. She said at that point, the parish gives the property owner time to correct the violation. After two violation notices, the case moves to the court system where a judge rules on the matter.

“In this particular case, the property owner was given additional time to work on the property,” Sutherland said. “Code Enforcement looked at the house, an inspector looked at the house, and I was taken out to look at the house. The house was open to the inside. It was unsafe and a hazard.”

Sutherland said District Court Judge Mary Hotard Becnel ruled in October 2010 the parish had the authority to tear down the home. Sutherland added the parish gave Adams additional time to secure the property, but she said nothing had changed. The property was finally torn down in June.

Sutherland explained the blight eradication process is much more meticulous than many imagine it to be, and it all starts with a resident or business owner complaint to one of the four code enforcement officers that police the parish.

“It may be an issue as simple as keeping grass properly cut, or as serious as a building on the verge of falling down,” Sutherland said. “There are some properties that are structurally safe that just need to be boarded up for safety to keep curious children or possible drug activity out. It is a safety issue, and it is our responsibility to take action.”

The next step after a violation has been put forth is finding the actual owner of the property in question, which can sometimes be tricky, Sutherland said.

“A lot of times we are dealing with family-owned properties,” Sutherland said. “Land and homes owned by great-grandparents or grandparents but never properly handed down. When you file a petition against a property owner, you need to know who the property owner is, and sometimes there are multiple owners of one property, and all need to be reached.”

Once the owner or owners have been established, the case is moved to the court system, where the owners either take action or ignore violations and allow the property to be demolished.

“There were maybe two occasions recently where the property owner had fixed the property themselves and brought it up to code,” Sutherland said. “The majority of the time, the parish Public Works Department is ordered to tear property down.”

The parish has been relatively aggressive with the blight problem over the past year and a half. Sutherland explained that in 2010, 29 properties were demolished either by the parish or the property owners. She said 11 more are still in the legal process. In 2011, the parish has been able to demolish seven properties and added there have been 11 new write-ups for the year.