Ascension Parish to file lawsuits fighting blighted properties
ASCENSION PARISH - Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa has announced that the parish government intends to file over a dozen lawsuits against property owners violating land development code.
It's something the parish has done before, in addition to filing liens against property owners for having to remove dilapidated homes.
“Property ownership brings with it rights and responsibilities, including the responsibility for upkeep,” said Matassa. “The property owners in these lawsuits have neglected the law, refused to correct problems, and have become a nuisance to their neighbors and community.”
The properties to be named in the lawsuits have been subject to public complaints. Those same blighted developments have been investigated by parish zoning officials and have done nothing to remedy the violations after being notified.
Recently, Director of Planning and Development Jerome Fournier says the problems are often found in older areas of the parish in neighborhoods without homeowners associations.
"We look at the parish in terms of blight and in terms of code enforcement issue as hopefully the last point of resort," said Fournier.
Parish ordinances on file help prevent people from leaving white goods (washer, dryers) and abandoned cars on their properties. Another ordinance helps protect people from structural defects in a house that could provide an unsafe environment.
The parish does not have a code enforcement officer that drives around the parish, which is why it acts on complaints. The parish will visit a property following a complaint and determine what code that homeowner is in violation of and send them a courtesy letter. If that person does not come into compliance by a specific date, the parish will turn the matter over to its attorney and the attorney will send a letter.
"We're trying to work with people," said Fournier.
The whole process can take months, but the parish says it has limits.
"We have limited ability to go on private property," said Fournier. "We can take action, we can press them on the issue, but there's only so much we can do."
For example, Fournier says it's difficult to bring a tow truck on a property to tow an abandoned car.
Fournier also tells WBRZ it runs into roadblocks when locating homeowners.
Kim Gray lives two houses down from a blighted house on First Colonial Street in Prairieville and contacted 2 On Your Side after she didn't see improvement following her phone calls to parish officials.
"Nobody would want to live next to this," said Gray. "Nobody wants to do anything for us out here. We just have to deal with it."
Gray says the person living in the house was a collector. Those items are stacked in piles around the yard. It flooded in August 2016 and the homeowner did not return. A car parked on the lawn is full of items. The same goes for inside and underneath the house.
"Sewage, nastiness, I guess rotting, molded, rats," said Gray. "There's no telling what all is in there."
While Gray says she's spoken to her councilman and notified the parish about the property a year ago, the parish says it didn't hear about the complaint until 2 On Your Side sent in the information. The parish tells 2 On Your Side it visited the lot recently to take photos but is still working to find the property owner.
"Until we can find the homeowner, you know, we're just sending letters to a mailbox," said Fournier.
Gray, who stared at the blight on her street for years says her fight is far from over.
"I'm not going to shut up until something's done," she said. "I'm just going to keep complaining."
To report blight in Ascension Parish, call (225) 450-1002.
The fight against blight is already happening in East Baton Rouge Parish where Councilwoman Tara Wicker has voiced concerns in the past.