An Algiers Point house that was severely damaged in a fire on Monday night was ruled a public nuisance in 2018 by a city hearing officer. And its owner, State Sen. Troy Carter, has yet to pay more than $8,400 in fines that have been levied against the multi-family home on Patterson Street. 

Neighbors told The Lens the property has been an eyesore for years, but in an interview, Carter — a former New Orleans City Council member who represents Senate District 7 on the West Bank — denied that and said that he was challenging the fines and expected them to be reversed. 

Early Tuesday afternoon, the two-story house had caution tape on the front door. The exterior of the first floor appeared to be largely undamaged. But the fire appeared to have consumed much of the second floor.

City emergency calls for service records show that a 911 call went out at about 11 p.m. Monday night. The New Orleans Fire Department did not respond to requests for comment, but Carter said that none of his tenants, who occupy three of the house’s four units, was injured. However, several of their pets died of smoke inhalation. He said that he is not yet sure what may have caused the fire. 

Neighbors who spoke to The Lens said the house, which Carter purchased in 1996, was a disaster waiting to happen. 

“It was terrible. The windows up there were all broke,” said next-door neighbor Bill McBride, pointing to the upper floor. “They’ve been broke. It’s not like they just broke last night. You see wires hanging off of it.” 

Vern Barber, who owns a home on the block and lives there part-time, said the units in the home were often overcrowded, and he had to call the police multiple times over apparent domestic disturbances there. He said the property has been in a constant state of disrepair since at least 2011. 

“You’ve got rats crawling around,” Barber said. “They didn’t even fix the windows.” 

Barber complained to the city last year about the state of the house. In June 2018, a city inspector came out and logged 14 violations — for trash and debris, inadequate foundation, a balcony that had deteriorated to the point of becoming a safety hazard and broken windows. The next month, a hearing officer upheld those findings

The violations were “of such a nature that the unoccupied property creates an uninhabitable and hazardous condition that threatens the public health and safety and that the property is therefore deemed a public nuisance,” the judgment said, though the property was, in fact, occupied. 

“We submit to you that blight is not only the physical deterioration of the property but also the negative impact on the community,” the judgment went on.

The hearing officer fined Carter $7,075, plus a $130 fee, warning him that he could later be fined $500 per day if the house was not fixed up. Carter has not paid the fine, and the city has since put a lien on the property. In October 2018, he was also fined $1,205 for working on the house without a permit — a violation that dates to the previous year — which has likewise not been paid. Both fines, totalling $8,410, have been added to the property’s outstanding tax records. A third fine, for $2,000 in 2018, appears in city records, but there is no record of a lien, and it does not appear in the house’s outstanding tax records. 

City records show that last month, he was cited again for working without a permit. And an inspector from the Historic District Landmarks Commission cited the house for “demolition by neglect.” According to records available on the city’s website, neither of the recent citations has yet gone to a hearing or resulted in fines. 

Carter disputes that there was any problem with the house. 

“There were never true violations,” he told The Lens on Tuesday afternoon. He said he was not able to make the July 2018 Code Enforcement hearing, and though he informed the city of his scheduling conflict, the hearing went on without him. “It was a default judgment.”

As for the fines for working without a permit, he said that was a mistake. 

“There was permits the entire time,” he said, noting that a permit was posted on the doorway this morning. Records show that he was granted a work permit in February 2018, after he was cited but about nine months before his hearing date on the violation. That permit expired later last year. 

Carter said he believes that the complaints against him grew out of a feud between a neighbor and one of the house’s former tenants. He didn’t name the nature and said he wasn’t sure what the nature of the dispute was. 

He said he is challenging each fine, though he has not filed a formal appeal in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. 

He said immediately after the July 2018 Code Enforcement judgment, “I spoke with the staff there, and sent them copies of the information that I’ve sent to them and they were going to review that.”

“And they said, ‘OK. We’ll get back with you and we’ll review it,’ ” he said. “I assure you that it will all be corrected, and the proof will be clear.”

Asked why the fines are still listed as outstanding more than a year later, Carter said he didn’t know. He said he only recently became aware of the liens. 

The Lens asked the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Code Enforcement to comment on Carter’s claims. They did not immediately respond to the request for comment. 

Informed of Carter’s comments, Barber, the neighbor, maintained that the property was blighted. He noted that the violations originated with complaints, but they were checked out by the city before going to a hearing. 

“Code Enforcement went around and they couldn’t believe what they were looking at,” he said. 

Asked what he hopes will happen with the house, Barber said, “I hope they just tear it down. I don’t think they can rebuild that.” 

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for Gambit, New Orleans alternative newsweekly, where he covered city hall, criminal justice and public health. Before moving to New Orleans, he covered state and local government for weekly papers in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.