Jean-Paul Villere: The face of blight

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3527 South Liberty (photo by Jean-Paul Villere)

Jean-Paul Villere

Once upon a time the ivy-covered, faded green house with broken glass panes and missing siding at 3527 South Liberty in Uptown New Orleans probably was a family home, a quaint if not classically styled shotgun with sidehall elements, wrought iron fencing and floor to ceiling windows facing the street.  Today it sits beaten to hell but still seemingly structurally intact, an eyesore of eyesores, and consumed by litter including household discards, dozens upon dozens of old tires, and yes, even hypodermic needles.  Additionally according to there is a code-enforcement lien, and the city’s new Blight Status site shows a hearing next week on 11 violations found in January 2013.  

This kind of scenario represents the face of blight in the Crescent City today.

Why?  While this space might seem like an altogether too common story, it is and it isn’t.  Where’re the owners?  Are they heirs?  Who knows?  Typically, the “heirs” part is pretty standard stuff in terms of local real estate left to waste.  The heirs are either incapable or unwilling (or both) to do anything about the property.  And the way the law is written they have almost every opportunity to rectify a tax sale, writ of possession, or acquisitive prescription.  And this is where the uncommon comes in.  Many properties owe back taxes, but not all have a blight judgement attached – whether they may appear to be blighted or not; that’s a formal process with mixed results.  A blight lien can be nothing more than a speeding ticket, and if paid the blight may remain in place.

How?  Choose a reason.  The city might be shown fraudulent documentation showing the blight remedied.  It happens.  The inspector may never inspect.  Quelle surprise.  Or maybe the addresses were switched.  Municipal addresses after all have no real legal bearing and mistakes happen therein all the time.  Just ask Safety & Permits.  How almost becomes unimportant, because the end result is the same.  The blight may remain.  Meanwhile a makeshift dump site may crop up, a fire hazard ensues, and environmental issues get tossed aside in quantity.  Do you know how a dead tire gets disposed of in Louisiana?  Legally by fees.  Illegally?  Look no further than the blight nearest you.  But if the blight is valid and actively on the books, one may acquisitively prescribe.

When?  The clock is ticking, and it’s a competitive world.  If you have the funds go down this path, hire a title attorney that knows what they’re doing, and they can guide you.  But the sooner, the better.  Think of acquisitive prescription as a tax sale where you compete against yourself.  You find the property.  You pay the bills.  You do your legal due diligence.  No party working against you bidding down percentage of ownership for a single tax year like a traditional tax sale.  And likely not on anyone’s radar either.  Except the adjacent neighbors that’ll get dibs before you can really get motoring on the process, but is that really a bad thing if it helps facilitate the blight back into commerce?  Of course not.

Where?  All over our fair city.  Have an old favorite that gets the better of your attention when you drive by it?  Look it up!  It could be a good candidate.  Keep in mind though that unlike a tax sale whereby the winning bidder is attached to title thereafter, this path – also known as squatter’s rights – requires layers of legal notices and places you on title only at the end and only at behest of a judge.  It’s a three-year process at best, but one that given patience, care, and a little luck could be lucrative.  To be sure, this facet of real estate is not for the faint of heart, but given the swath of inventory out there chances of success are likely in your favor.

But then, we could always change the law, right?

Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

7 thoughts on “Jean-Paul Villere: The face of blight

  1. The property at 3527 S LIBERTY ST NEW ORLEANS, LA 70115
    has total value of $87,000.

    HOWEVER, with a homestead exemption of $75,000,
    the Total “Accessed” value is reduced to $8,970

    Using this page:
    -> and entering
    You read $8,970 for the Total “Accessed” value for 2013
    and you get $296.48 in estimated taxes.
    (Note, make sure you put the word “South” on the 4th box below and the word “Liberty” should be in the 2nd box, all by itself.)

    The bottom tier cell phone plans are like $40/month
    Multiply that by 12 months and that’s $480/year.
    A nice middle tier cellphone plan at like $90/month works out to be

    This property at South Liberty St could miss 3 years of property tax payments and still not cost as much as a nice middle tier cell plan for even a single year.

    Why should this property owner sell or fix it up, when they are mostly out-of-town working, say in Houston, Atlanta or Dallas (and making far more than they ever did in New Orleans)?

    Some are also angry about the lack of jobs in NOLA as well as the corruption and don’t want to see their tax money fall into the incompetence and corruption in Louisiana.

    Should they really care about their property in New Orleans when the property taxes they have to pay in a single year doesn’t come close to their cell phone plan’s cost for an entire year?

    Property Tax (2013): $296/year
    Cell Phone Plan ($40/m): $480/year
    Cell Phone Plan ($90/m): $1080/year

    Now, do you see why there is still blight after more than 7 years since Hurricane Katrina?

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  2. I’m not sure I even follow your scheme, but I do believe there must be ways for interested persons (activists!) to stabilize and improve blighted properties, perhaps even with some hope of recovery of some costs afvanced. Certainly adjacent owners can cut the grass or board windows. I think in some cases, where owners are long gone, use of the property is easily justified, I used the driveway of an empty home for a couple of years. Our law on property seizures and sales are a mess, and there ought to be a method for recovery of necessary maintenance expenses put out by strangers Lawyers ought to take such work on a contingecy basis. I would like to see real estate brokers do more. On tv, the real estate agents are giving advice on how to use some pre-sale work to make the property have curb appeal, but we have big name companies unabashedly putting their names on embarrassing and dangerous wrecks. I’m surprised there aren’t more liability issues.

  3. Abandonment of worthless properties with tax liabilities certainlly makes economic sense. It ought to be easier for owners to make a declaration of abandonment or some donation, and there ought to be penalties for the legal mess absentee owners create.

    • A declaration of abandonment or donation is one thing and that may or may not fix the problem because that would still be voluntary. Furthermore, maybe they are holding the property like a stock options on a bankrupt company, having a little bit of hope. Hard to say.

      Furthermore, abandonment or donation is still “after-the-fact-of blight”. And that’s still suffering for one, two, three years or more of eyesore, vandalism, dumping, and lower property values.

      HOWEVER, “PREVENTION-of-Blight”, and completely avoiding the 1, 2, 3 or more years of eyesore, vandalism, dumping, etc in the FIRST PLACE, is another thing.

      To do that, things eliminating the Homestead Exemption would help that. It would be similar in overall property purchase costs like making sure there is a 20% down payment and the owner has SKIN in the game.

      Right now, there is essentially no skin in the game because of Huey P. Long’s Louisiana Share Our Wealth (i.e. the-way-too-generous) homestead exemption.

      • I don’t think owners who have abandoned a building can lawfully claim the homestead exemption, and most of our blight is not related to recent purchasers with no skin in the game. The problem is related to people and corporations who have come to own property that is blighted and for whom the present system of de facto abandonment makes economic sense. Some easy way out has to be offered, coupled with some meaningful penalty for inaction.

        • If the property is abandoned (or in very bad shape), the property’s value is probably so low the homestead exemption is not going to matter.

          You said, “The problem is related to people and corporations who have come to own
          property that is blighted and for whom the present system of de facto
          abandonment makes economic sense. ”

          What do you mean by “who have come to own property” and “de factor abandonment makes economic sense”?

          Could you give a few direct examples of what you are talking about?

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