New Orleans I thought of an article I had torn out of the New York Times and stuck into my bag to read more closely on my quick trip to Katmandu recently, when I got a weird email on the same trip. The Historic Districts Landmarks Commission (HDLC) in New Orleans had sent us a bizarre missive, labeled as a Demolition notice, or more accurately, a threat to demolish, for the ACORN Global Enterprise property on Ponce de Leon where we operated the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse social enterprise. Admittedly, they caught my attention, and, sure enough, many of our properties have now found themselves in Historic Districts where we can potentially be subjected to such bullying.
We knew of no complaints. There had been no HDLC inspection. What was the issue? Finally, reading the thing, it was just a bullying threat because they had somehow observed that several weatherboards needed to be fixed. This is New Orleans and a tropical climate and a large two-story frame house. There are always going to be weatherboards that need to be tightened and fixed. It is a commonplace matter of no great consequence that will cost a couple of hundred to repair at most, so what was the beef? The HDLC notice seemed to want us to come in and get a permit to do the work. I wasn’t born yesterday. You only need a permit from HDLC if you are altering a property in some material way in an historic district. No permit is needed for routine repairs that maintain existing conditions. This whole thing on paper seems to add up to little more than municipally sanctioned harassment and a revenue scam for a small agency. The actions of HDLC are the real nuisance here. Does one waste the time messing with them or just fix the couple of weatherboards and let it ride?
The story in the Times demonstrated how harrowing – and expensive – such bullying and nuisances can become. The article focused on the spiraling Catch-22 homeowners in Queens and elsewhere in New York City can face over simple problems like this in their homes. The NYC Building Department might issue a citation for something, but confused homeowners often uncertain how to respond, delaying, or not understanding the procedure find themselves facing a series of fines for lateness that multiply and snowball. As the Times reports:
“Before filing a certification, homeowners must have the condition fixed, which often begins with paying for a permit. But before they can get the permit, they must pay additional civil penalties, incurred alongside the fines for construction issues. Until the civil penalties are paid, owners will receive one fine after another for failing to comply.”
Understand this clearly, this is often after the problem was fixed and repaired, eliminating any safety concern or in the case of the niggling HDLC in New Orleans, aesthetic issue was addressed.
The Times pictured one house where three violations had incurred $495,800 in fines! What in the world is the purpose of that? Under what rationale of public policy can this level of bullying and predation by public bodies be excused?
I can think of none, and I believe there is none.
Please enjoy Dark Night Of The Soul by Van Morrison.
Thanks to KABF.