Landowners could lose abandoned properties

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - East Baton Rouge Parish is about to drop the axe on people who allow their grass to grow out of control. Leaders are talking about implementing steeper fines and penalties.

Some landowners could lose their properties.

"That tree need trimming or cutting down because the branches are almost dragging the ground," Ruth Aguillard said.

Aguillard and her neighbors are living next to a vacant lot that's become more like a jungle. It's been growing up for years.

"They have rats out there and I'm afraid snakes too," Aguillard said.

"Whoever owns the lot, owns the house and they just not keeping it up at all," Linda B. Mack said.

The women said they have called the city-parish for help, but they said it doesn't come fast enough.

"She said, 'Oh it might be six months before they get out there,' and she was almost right," Aguillard said.

EBR Director of Public Works David Guillory said there are thousands of overgrown lots in the parish. He said the parish tries to tackle them and fines the owners. The problem is they don't always pay up.

"We will cut the lot and actually put a lien on the property owner's taxes for the end of the year," Guillory said.

Guillory said the city-parish cuts the lots and absorbs most of the cost, but that's about to change. Lawmakers passed a bill sponsored by the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority this legislative session. It gives municipalities more power to collect on debt.

"Once an absentee property owner or property owner who doesn't want to comply with the rules does it multiple times, then the city-parish can actually take action against that owner by levying higher fines or even taking the property," Guillory said.

It is a big relief for those who have been staring blight in the eye for so long.

"It's ridiculous for a lot, yard, anything like that to be grown up that much," Aguillard said.

Guillory said the city-parish plans to introduce a new blight ordinance this fall to coincide with the new law. It will include an option to foreclose on and auction unclaimed property.

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