In the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura, tens of thousands of homes had devastating damage. A significant number were left uninhabitable due to the level of damage, leaving Lake Charles, and much of Calcasieu Parish, with a sea of blue roofs.
Roughly half the housing stock in the parish was damaged by the hurricanes. Many of these homes lacked appropriate insurance coverage or lacked insurance altogether. Now, just over two years since the storms, both the city of Lake Charles and Calcasieu Parish are moving forward with demolishing homes that have not been repaired; they have been deemed nuisances and slated for demolition.
A long and drawn out delay in long-term funding for recovery has contributed to an already existing housing crisis, leaving renters and homeowners without many options. Lake Charles topped the list for out-migration between 2019 and 2020, and more surveying in 2021 showed that Calcasieu and Cameron Parish had some of the steepest declines in population of any U.S. county.
If you’ve been reading SWLA Journal notes, you’ve seen these items come up on the agenda at every city council (Lake Charles, Sulphur, Westlake, and DeQuincy), planning and zoning, and police jury meetings.
How the process works
The procedure that allows the city and parish to slate homes for demolition is outlined by a group of state statutes. The following is a high-level overview of the process:
Step one: According to La. R.S 33:4761, a governing authority is granted the authority to demolish buildings which are either dilapidated or exist in a dangerous condition.
Step Two: In accordance to La. R.S. 33:4762 the governing authority must provide a written report as to why a building is being recommended for demolition and notice shall provide notice to the property owner advising of the recommendation and provide the owner with the opportunity to appear before the governing authority and advise why the building at issue should not be demolished. This statute provides details on what efforts the governing authority must take in providing the notice to the owner. These steps must be taken prior to the governing authority taking action to demolish a home.
Step three: The governing authority, in accordance with La. R.S. 33:4763, must hold a meeting, receive the information on the written report referenced above. Once the report is received, they can elect to deem the building condemned or they may elect to provide the owner the opportunity to bring the building up to code. Whatever decision is made, the result must be reduced to writing. If the decision is made to demolish the building, the owner has five days to appeal the decision.
Step four: According to La. R.S. 33:4764, in order to appeal the decision of the governing authority to demolish a building, the building owner must file a lawsuit against the governing agency where the building is located.
Step five: La. R.S. 33:4765 provides the steps the property owner must take once a building has been slated for demolition. The statue further outlines the steps the governing authority may take to demolish the building if the owner fails to do so. According to the statute, if the governing authority makes the decision to demolish the building, they must first provide notice to the owner of the governing authority’s plans on demolishing the building. The statute even outlines the steps an governing authority may take to have the National Guard assist in the demolition of buildings.
In August 2022, Act 340 went into effect requiring governmental agencies to maintain and publish a list of properties which have been slated for demolition. Here is a link to the Calcasieu Parish listing to property slated for demolition.
Why it’s important to show up to public meetings
The process outlined in the statute has many technical aspects to it that are daunting, in general and particularly for those seeking to survive and recover from hurricanes Laura and Delta. However, in the past three months I have attended Lake Charles city council meetings and Calcasieu parish police jury meetings where the topic of demolition of homes were on the agenda. In each setting, I have witnessed homeowners go before the city council and the police jury, making the requests that their homes not be demolished. In each instance, the governmental body made inquiry from the appropriate council person or police jury member asking what they desired to do and in each instance the city council person or police jury member yielded to the request of the homeowner.
What our city council and police jury are looking for is that homeowners act in moving towards demolition or repairs—first, obtaining a permit.
In order to obtain a building permit for repairs you must present plans for approval. A newly developing challenge is this arena is flood zone designation. Any plan that is submitted for approval must take the flood zone designation into account. Homes that are in certain flood zones will not be permitted if the plan does not include addressing elevating the structure. The issue there is limited funding for home elevation which can be costly—typically it is not covered by insurance. (I will be following up on this topic in later articles.)
What to do if your home has been designated to be demolished
If your home has been designated by your local governmental agency, your first step should be to contact your representative of that local governmental agency. Be prepared to explain to them what type of assistance you are seeking and any impediments you have encountered with respect to attempts you have made in seeking to restore your home to standards. Be prepared to ask about assistance and or solutions that will suit your specific facts and circumstances.
In my next article I will follow up on this topic and discuss the different ways by which homeowners find themselves in this predicament and the opportunities that exist to make this pathway less traveled for members of our communities.