Getting more blighted, adjudicated property back into commerce

Updated: Jul. 2, 2019 at 7:20 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) -Blighted properties are a problem throughout the state.

Blighted properties often have no clear title. They are called adjudicated properties — those for which property taxes have not been paid.

Those issues can prevent purchase of the property, so it's basically taken out of commerce.

The Baton Rouge flood of 2016 is one reason the area now has many blighted properties, abandoned because no one has paid the taxes or bought the property at a tax sale.

Adam Knapp is president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

“There are six thousand - more than six thousand properties - that are blighted, which means they are declared adjudicated, which means they are sitting, in many cases, abandoned or cleared and empty, but they are not going back into commerce. They are not being invested in by people who want to build a new house,” said Knapp.

Knapp and title attorney Amanda Spain talked with local real estate lawyers about a new law to help get such properties back in commerce.

“It spelled out more clearly the steps that the sheriff’s office has to take statewide, all the sheriffs, to provide notice to people who owed their taxes when the original notice doesn’t get served to the right person," said Spain.

Mark Judson, executive director of the SWLA Law Center, says the new law is a great move forward.

Judson says the change in the law is a great first step in “standardizing and codifying the efforts that sheriffs, i.e. tax collectors, must make to give notice to tax sale debtors. So, if it’s codified and it’s uniform, it’s still not an automatic panacea cure-all, but it’s a great first step in getting us in line with the U.S. constitutional requirements to get notice and it will ultimately help in making all this tax sale and adjudicated property merchantable, good title and to get it back into private commerce.”

“If the property is not in private ownership, then our local government will own it. That’s going to be the parish and the city and they’re going to have to mow it, they’re going to have to tear down dilapidated houses, vagrants and undesirables are going to live in properties. It’s going to lead to crime and it’s just going to bring down the values of property of private neighbors. So,anything in private ownership is going to be better for the entire community,” said Judson.

No one wants to unfairly lose their property. But Judson says their rights are well-protected.

"This is not taking rights away from property owners. It’s making sure that property owners have reasonable efforts at notice. So, if a property owner is not exercising any kind of interest in owning their property, they’re not mowing it, they’re not showing up once a year to pay their taxes, they’re not inquiring with the tax assessor’s office about whether taxes are owed, if they’re not expressing any type of interest or any type of effort to exercise any responsibility in ownership then they don’t need to own it and it needs to get out of their names and it needs to get into private commerce with people who want to be responsible owners and make the property better and hence make the community better,” said Judson.

Charla Blake, of Project Build a Future, says getting good title for such properties can help those in need become home owners.

"In the target area that we build, which is north Lake Charles, a lot of the properties often times are adjudicated or they do have title issues which means the more money that it costs us to clear those titles, or quiet the titles, the more money we have to pass on to the potential homeowner," said Blake.

And she says more public awareness could help prevent property from becoming blighted.

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