PORT ALLEN - A property war is unfolding in West Baton Rouge Parish. It centers around some land that hasn't had an owner since the early 1900's.
Recently, a resident claimed to own it. The area in question is batture land. It's a 14-acre site on the inside of the Mississippi River levee across the river from the State Capitol. It's lucrative land for people who charge mooring fees for barges. Currently, there are more than a dozen unclaimed properties in West Baton Rouge Parish. This investigation will show anyone can come forward, and claim to own those properties.
At the foot of the Mississippi River levee in Port Allen, a "no trespassing" sign is securely fastened into the ground. It reads: "Property of Sunnyside Landing LLC." Zane Nelson lives near the sign and got aggravated when George Hill, the owner of Sunnyside Landing laid claim to the property near the levee.
"He told me he bought all the property on the levee," Nelson said.
Court records obtained by the News 2 Investigative Unit show that's exactly what George Hill did. In 2009, he filed what's called a quitclaim deed in the parish courthouse. He paid the filing fees, then transferred the property he claimed to own to Sunnyside Landing LLC. But, records we obtained show the parcel of land that Hill claims as his own is still listed in the West Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse as "unknown" for the owner.
"If a person can just come and lay claim to a piece of property and draw up some bogus paperwork in his mind is legitimate..what keeps him from doing it even closer," Nelson wondered.
When we talked to WBR Assessor Barney "Frog" Altazan, he said Sunnyside did not own that property. Altazan remembers when Hill showed up at the courthouse making demands.
"He came in after he filed his quitclaim and instructed me to start sending him a tax bill on the bature property," Altazan said. "I told him I was not going to do that."
According to Altazan, Hill is relying on an old law which is unknown to many.
"As far as prescriptive rights or squatters rights, as it's been known many years ago, if you sat on a piece of property for so many years, if nobody tried to get you off and you can prove you've been sitting there for 30 years....the law or judge would rule it was your property," Altazan said.
We caught up with Hill at his mansion, the old Homestead Plantation off River Road. Even though Hill doesn't have any paperwork to prove he is the rightful owner of the property, he maintains he laid claim to the property for his family.
"It will have a clear title in 25 years," Hill said.
When asked why he was doing this, Hill responded, "For my children."
Hill's attitude and firmness about being the owner of the property with no proof, worries neighbors like Nelson who would like to see property laws tightened up.
"I'd like to be able to go to sleep at night and know there are some checks and balances in place to protect residents from having to worry about this," Nelson said.
As far as challenging this, anyone can file a lawsuit or lay claim to the property Hill says he owns. We checked with the Port of Baton Rouge and mooring fees for barges can be hundreds of dollars, depending on how many days the barges are parked.
We've attached a list of the 14 unclaimed properties in West Baton Rouge Parish. To view the list, click here.