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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Condemning property can be a lengthy process

Condemning property can be a lengthy process

At least 12 properties in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes have been condemned and authorized for demolition this year.

The condemnation process differs in each parish, with parish council approval required at different phases.

When a property or structure is reported to the parish as a derelict, nuisance, haven for drug or crime activity, or eyesore, it is turned over to parish officials to investigate and determine if any codes have been violated.

Each parish has its own set of codes, or rules, that buildings must adhere to in order to be deemed safe and livable.

In Terrebonne, a property can be condemned after it has been reported, inspected, the owners are notified, the Parish Council holds a public hearing and votes to condemn and public bids are solicited for demolition.

Most of that process falls under the authority of the Planning and Zoning Department’s Nuisance Abatement Division.

Property owners are given several opportunities to bring a building into compliance before demolition.

“Absolutely, we try and get the homeowner to take care of the properties before they get taken care of by the parish,” code enforcement officer Deon Stewart said.

One code violation does not mean a property would be considered for demolition. It has to be deemed a nuisance or safety hazard to the public. Many of the properties that are presented to the council are not condemned right away, and they’re only presented four times a year.

“The majority of them get held. There are very few and far between that we get condemned per year,” Stewart said.

During the council’s public hearings, property owners have a chance to present evidence for why the property shouldn’t be condemned. In some recent cases, lengthy succession battles have causes properties to fall into disarray.

After the council approves a condemnation, there is still time for property owners to take the necessary measures to bring their building into compliance before a contract for demolition is signed.

Bid amounts can range widely, and that is handled by the parish purchasing department.

Terrebonne has condemned at least seven properties this year. That’s about the average number approved each year, Stewart said.

A similar process occurs in Lafourche, but the property only appears before the Parish Council for contract approval after it has been condemned.

Property owners in Lafourche can appeal the condemnation to a nuisance abatement hearing panel comprised of parish officials and the councilman of that district, Solid Waste Manager Jerome Danos said.

Most of the time, properties are investigated after a written complaint is filed with the parish, he said.

“All we need is one form to get started,” said Wendy Loupe, the coordinator of the Lafourche nuisance abatement program.

Tax databases serve as official records for who owns the property and who will receive notices of the violations. Lafourche residents have about 14 working days to respond to the first notice. Terrebonne has about 30 days to respond and apply for a permit.

If a second inspection is conducted and the violation still exists, the parish will impose a $100 fine and citation. Then the owner has 72 hours to file an appeal, Danos said.

If there is no appeal, the parish certified building inspector will condemn the property. The parish will then solicit bids for demolition, which are approved by the council.

Lafourche has condemned at least four properties this year, but its target is 12 to 16, Danos said.

“We probably could have more than what we deal with, but considering the time and budget we have dedicated to process, we are able to process about 12 to 16 per year,” he said.

He added there a lot more properties in the parish that would qualify for demolition.

Once a property is demolished, the cost incurred to the parish is tacked on as a lien on the property.

“We make every attempt to recoup that,” Danos said.

-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or Follow her on Twitter at @gingerale214.