Minden Press-Herald

Thursday
Oct 02nd

When nobody’s home

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Webster Parish Police Jury is facing how to deal with abandoned properties where no owner can be located.

Sarah White went before WPPJ on Tuesday to present one example.

"I'm having a problem with property I live next door to," she said. "I'm trying to sell my house ... when people come out one of the first things they ask is who owns that big mess over there, and I explain."

Sarah White's neighbor died June, 2011. The problem was the neighbor had no local relatives and no one knew means of contacting the children.

Having been completely let go for a year, the house and trailers on the lot fell into disrepair. Grass, bushes and trees took over.

"We killed three large cotton mouths (snakes) coming from their yard into ours," White said. "We began to see rats running in the grass.

"Then came armadillos that turned my yard upside down at night and buried up over there in the daytime," she continued. "The opossums tried to move in under my back porch, so I had to put a fence around it. People have dropped off unwanted cats over there."

Unfortunately, without an owner or their agent to contact, current ordinances do not give WPPJ many options.

"It's really not like anything we've had before because there's not anybody we can send a letter to," District 6 juror Jim Bonsall said during a discussion about White's property in a Road Committee meeting. "There is a daughter and a son, but we haven't been able to contact them. We've been hunting them for a month.

"Our ordinance does not cover this," he continued. "There's not anyone to contact to get it cleaned up. If we were to go do it, there's not anybody to charge."

Ordinances were recently set up to deal with blighted properties, however they do not cover the cases like White's.

Without someone to contact, abandoned properties become a waiting game.

"We could proceed under our ordinance, but we'd have to have a curator or attorney appointed to represent those absentee heirs," Judge Graydon Kitchens, Jr. said. "We could ask the curator as one of his duties to publish something in the newspaper in hopes that somebody would contact us.

"In the event that didn't happen, then we could just go ahead and hold a hearing as the ordinance provides," he continued. "We just have to have service on the curator."

Another option discussed was waiting until the abandoned property came up for sale due to unpaid taxes, however it was agreed that might not ultimately get the property cleaned.

In that circumstance, the ordinance process would need to continue, however, this time with an owner to contact.

In White's case, since the meeting, the son has been found and hope is that with an heir in contact the property's issues will begin to be addressed.

Many others in similar circumstances are not as lucky.

 

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