Land Use

City demolishes blighted house months after it was sold to developer to rehab

In April, Peter Gardner bought a blighted house at 2335 Conti St. from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.* He was given a year to renovate the small house in Mid-City, so he stabilized it and started to work on financing and architectural plans.

Monday morning, he drove up and was shocked to see that the building was gone — demolished earlier that day by a city contractor.

Gardner frequently buys and fixes up run-down properties. He paid $30,000 for this property, located less than a block away from the abandoned railroad that is supposed to become the Lafitte Greenway, and just a few blocks away from the massive hospital complex now under construction.

Peter Gardner bought this house at 2335 Conti St. in June with a promise to renovate it within a year. This week, a city contractor demolished it after the city labeled it in "imminent danger of collapse." Gardner said the property wasn't in danger of collapse and that no one notified him that his property was scheduled to be torn down. The city provided these photos to show the condition of the building before it was demolished. 

City of New Orleans

Peter Gardner bought this house at 2335 Conti St. in June with a promise to renovate it within a year. This week, a city contractor demolished it after the city labeled it in "imminent danger of collapse." Gardner said the property wasn't in danger of collapse and that no one notified him that his property was scheduled to be torn down. The city provided these photos to show the condition of the building before it was demolished.

Not only has his investment been gutted, he’ll probably have to pay thousands more for the demolition.

City spokesman Tyler Gamble defended the demolition Thursday, saying Gardner was required to start maintaining the property after he bought it April 24 and that the city didn’t know he was working on it because he hadn’t gotten the necessary permits.

The incident is reminiscent of the immediate post-Katrina era, when Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration demolished many buildings — some of which had been issued building permits — in an effort to rid the city of vacant, flood-damaged homes.

After Hurricane Gustav, Nagin issued an executive order allowing for demolitions in historic districts without review. In one case, the city tore down a house in Gentilly shortly after a couple bought it and started to fix it up. A church in eastern New Orleans won $300,000 in a civil rights suit after its building was demolished.

Earlier this month, the wrong house was demolished in Fort Worth, Texas.

The property on Conti Street was labeled as blighted as early as 2006, and again in 2009 when it was owned by the Redevelopment Authority. The city cited it for code-enforcement violations as recently as February.

On July 2, the city declared the building in “Imminent Danger of Collapse.” Gardner said it was no more in danger of collapse than it had been in the past, and he had propped up parts of the house that were sagging.

Tyler Gamble said in an email that Gardner should have gotten a permit to stabilize the property, but he didn’t.

“Despite the owner’s claim to have stabilized the property, the Code Enforcement inspection showed the work was insufficient,” Gamble wrote. “Had the owner attempted to stabilize the property and obtain the proper permits, the City would have known he was working on solving the problem so we didn’t have to.”

The city issued a demolition permit on July 16. Gardner said he wants to know why the city didn’t notify him or at least post a notice on the house warning that the city was set to be torn down.

The city is not required to notify the owner if a house is judged to be in danger of collapsing, Gamble said. “It was clear the property was a danger.”

Since Monday, Gardner said he’s tried to reach people in the city’s Safety and Permits department to find out what happened, but he hasn’t heard back. On Thursday, he met with Redevelopment Authority officials. Gamble said they discussed the purchase agreement and the agency’s policies.

Fox 8 News story

*Correction: This story originally said the property was sold in June; it was sold in April. (August 1, 2013)

This story was updated after publication to include comments from the city and recent photos of the property.

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About Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.

  • KurtB

    Awful news. Beautiful house. City Hall is a joke.

  • LGD

    OHH, How dare the city!!! It would have survived hurricane force winds. I know we all wished that structure was a foot or two from our homes. The neighbors must be outraged that such a beautiful structure was removed only feet from where their children slept. He was going to rent the ‘2 walled open air’ duplex in just a few weeks. The owner must have been too strapped for funds to apply for permits; after all you can not expect him to stop buying multiple lots all around developing areas and sitting on them as some 123 Named St, LLC. Now where will the homeless go to sleep when it is raining? Where will the nearby mischievous young lads go to enjoy recreational drugs?
    I think Sir Gardner needs to file suit and run the city’s legal bills up so we will have to put off some unneeded road, drainage, water, or sewer infrastructure repair. OHH, How dare the city???

  • Ken Foster

    Wow…you really are literate! Thanks for sharing your “thoughts.” Perhaps if the city felt it needed to be torn down, they shouldn’t have sold it to someone just a few months ago?

  • LGD

    I agree the city should have removed the structure and then sold the lot. However the rules of the auction are are “as-is”. The permits should have been applied for by the developer in the MONTHS that followed the sell The home’s shortcomings were clear to see from the street prior to the auction. If a rehabilitation or building permit was denied, the new owner could have spend funds on removing and rebuilding in a like-style structure, or exact copy of the original. This would have been cheaper and provided a more sound structure and easily met the building code requirements. While many structures in New Orleans do need to be preserved, not all can or should be. What needs to be preserved in the distinguishing qualities and features that this city is blessed to have.

    Now my rant and hopes for New Orleans..
    I detest the no sidewalk strip-mall shopping sprawl of large suburban cities where it is hop in my car and go to work or shopping. I enjoy walking, biking, taking the streetcar or bus, and using my electric car to meet 98% of my transportation needs.

    Also while interest on municipal bonds are at such a low, I believe the city should pass some 20, 30 or 50 year bonds to fund massive infrastructure replacement. It will not be long before the true ‘risk of default’ will be added into municipal bonds, and the interest cost will be prohibit issuing bonds for the necessary repairs. Then we will be on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ system. This will run up the cost as each section would be put up to bid separately. The cost of setting up the site and machinery will be replicated numerous times. As well as once the EPA starts issuing fines for leaking sewer systems like the do in other cities, the city will be in 100 percent federal receivership and congress will be mandating a federal property/maintenance fee on property owners.

    Dig up and replace the sewer, water, natural gas, communication/cable lines, and bury the power lines where the city is above sea level. Place a proper bed of 12 inches of crushed stone down, then repave and replace sidewalks. This investment in the city will provide a greater return to all. What does it mean to us and our children: cleaner water, less wear and tear on vehicles, increase tourism, less outages, and a greatly reduced future cost of patchwork fixes that currently has us under a barrel.

    You must take care of the City of New Orleans if you want here to take care of you.