A Note on Methodology

For those Blight Blog fans who are interested in how we do our research, here is a quick overview:

The first step is usually getting the address of the property in question. While this seems straightforward, it can often be a bit difficult, as addresses, especially for abandoned properties, are often not posted on the building itself (though occasionally, an expired building permit posted in the window will have the info, which is helpful).  The Orleans Parish Board of Assessor’s (OPBOA) website is the next stop, with or without an address. Under the tab “search records” you have the option of searching by property address, and you will be provided with current property information, including the assessed property value, the last time (or two) the property changed hands, and the current owner. If you don’t have the address, you usually figure it out by searching the hundred block of the street the property is on and, using the parcel map feature (probably the coolest thing the assessor’s office has done other than get consolidated), figure out the address based on the building’s location on the block.

With the building’s address an owner, you can begin the search for other records. To get historical information, you can go to the city real estate office, located on the fourth floor of city hall. This is where all of the sales of the property, dating back to its first acquisition are recorded. While the office of conveyances (located at 1340 Poydras) has digital records of all acts of sale after 1987, to get a copy of an act of sale from before then requires knowing the year the sale took place, which you can only get at the real estate office. However, this is not the easiest task. To track sales, the real estate office has a series of folders, each corresponding to square formed between four city streets. The first page of each folder is a map of said square, followed by pages corresponding to the lots within the square. On each page, the law office has glued, in no particular order, photocopies of all of the acts of sale for that property. If you are able to use their dates to put them in order, then you have a chain of ownership for that property, dating as far back as the city has records, though for properties sitting on multiple lots, this can often be time consuming and nearly impossible.

Next, a quick google search of the address and owner (in the exact format found on the OPBOA website) will usually produce any NCDC, HDLC or City Council records of the property, as they are stored as pdfs, and google is the only way to search their content (as opposed to going to the city website). These records will be a good way to find out if the property has been brought before a code enforcement hearing, what the decision was, and if there has been any contention during the permitting process (ie. neighborhood resistance, etc.). Another place to get information on permits is the city’s permit database. Searching by property address will give you a list of all of the permits applied and received for a given property. It will also give you the name of the contractor and property owner.

This last part is crucial for the final stage in any research: contacting the current owner. While google searching an owners name can sometimes work, often times, entities will operate under different names than they are legally identified by. City assessment records will use this legal name, but the permit application will usually be filed with the name they do business under. Better yet, the permit database will usually also include both a current address and a current phone number for the current owners. This is especially crucial if the current owner owned the property before the storm and the address reflected in the OPBOA records is no longer accurate. Once you have this information, it is just a matter of trying to call the current owner and finding out what is going on. Though this seems to be the most straightforward part, it is often the most time consuming, as property owners tend to be reluctant to discuss their vacant properties.

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