FOX 8 Defenders: Council members push for stronger enforcement regarding blighted pools

Defenders: Blighted property, pool update

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The New Orleans City Council's Governmental Affairs committee was clear Tuesday that something needs to change when it comes to enforcing judgments against blighted pools across the city. Their discussion came after a series of FOX 8 Defenders reports over the last year, which laid out the public safety and health concerns surrounding a longtime nuisance pool in Lakeview.

"There's a hole now in the fence. The pool is black. Any child can sneak in. What is it gonna take?" asked Brigette Starr. She couldn't attend the council committee meeting in person, but she watched it afterward online.

Starr has expressed repeated concerns about her next door neighbor's in-ground swimming pool for years.

"Thirteen years!  Everything is wrong with that particular pool, and look...it's not the only one in the city that is like that. There is a gaping hole where a child could go in and God forbid drown! How is that not imminent danger?" asked City Council member Helena Moreno.

City Council members heard neighbors' concerns.

"The homeowner was fined $15,000 years ago, showed up the day of her sheriff's sale, paid the fines, and it (Code Enforcement process) started over," neighbor Connie Uddo explained.

"After she (nuisance pool owner) pays the fines, there's no mechanism that we know of that will still force her to abate the violations that have been imposed against her," homeowner Walter Brunken said.

Council members questioned Code Enforcement leaders about pools in general and why judgments to fix the problems aren't being enforced.

"Unfortunately the law doesn't allow us to handcuff her and force her to fix the fence," City Code Enforcement Director Albert Poche said.

Council member Joe Giarrusso pointed out if the homeowner won't fix it, the city has the ability to do it.

"It seems to me the law is clear that you can go fill the pool when you have a judgment in hand and then lien the property.  I think we ought to be availing ourselves of that right now and pick a pool in every single district and start doing it," he said.

At one point, there was discussion about how the city would pay to fill blighted pools.  Council member Cyndi Nguyen asked, "the fee that you collect from these judgments, why won't we use that fee to fill the pool and address the issue?"  Poche said when Code Enforcement fees are collected, they go into a revolving fund, which goes to grass abatement.

"The fundamental issue is the 4th amendment, the protection of unreasonable searches and seizures.  That's the advice we have from the city's law department," former Code Enforcement Director Chad Dyer explained.

If the city has the ability to demolish a home in the case of imminent danger, Council member Kristen Gisleson Palmer said filling a pool ought to be expedited the same way in the case of a public health risk.

Brigette Starr couldn't agree more.  "I'm grateful for number one, the neighbors who have stood by my dad and I, and now the City Council for pushing harder on Code Enforcement," she said.

Council member Giarrusso asked the Code Enforcement department to find out how many pools are in violation, the cost to fix those pools, and ways to increase enforcement powers to abate nuisance pools.

The FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women also field consumer complaints at 1-877-670-6397 or you can fill out an online complaint form. 

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