Push to Demolish Burned New Orleans Building Frequented by Squatters

According to the New Orleans Fire Department, a grill accident sparked the two-alarm inferno Wednesday night.

Tribune Content Agency3.5.2024

Missy Wilkinson
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

Mar. 5—If a former Historic District Landmarks Commissioner does not make good on a promise to demolish his burned-down Treme property within a week, the city will do it for him, Councilmember Freddie King vowed on Monday morning.

“I’m trying my best to get this knocked down,” King said as he stood near the charred remnants of a triplex the city had cited repeatedly for code violations before its destruction Wednesday night in a fire started by squatters. “The city needs to be more aggressive in going after bad actors.”

For the past six months, people had been squatting in the property. According to the New Orleans Fire Department, a grill accident sparked the two-alarm inferno Wednesday night.

On a rainy Monday morning, roughly two dozen residents turned out in umbrellas and shrimp boots to meet with King at the intersection of Kerlerec and Henriette Delille streets. They said the fiery outcome was just what they foresaw as code violations piled up less than a year after owner Ayodele Love bought the property, which spans 1139 and 1137 Kerlerec Street and 1440 Henriette Delille Street.

A city code enforcement official said Love has promised to demolish the property, but the official did not give a timeline.

In Nov. 21, Love was cited for trash, debris and noxious plants including poison oak and ivy. A year later, Love was hit with 12 additional violations. They included violations for sanitation, rodents and defacement. In July 2023, he accrued 18 more.

Love did not respond Monday to a voicemail message seeking comment.

Love, who was appointed to the commission in late 2020 by Mayor LaToya Cantrell and left last year, owes $42,000 in real estate taxes on the property. When he was appointed, his employer, Professional Service Industries Inc., held contracts with the Department of Public Works and the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board. Love filed for bankruptcy, stopping a sheriff’s sale as he faced foreclosure in 2023.

The owner’s history of neglect, residents said, does not instill confidence in his quick action on a promised demolition.

“With the new info that Ayo Love will demolish the building himself—which I don’t believe will happen—he is as an owner still holding that community hostage,” Mar Paulsen said. Her century-old double gallery sidehall was damaged by the fire, its antique stained-glass windows cracked and its new paint job ruined.

Anthony Davis, the city’s director of code enforcement, said the city is using $10 million earmarked at the last budget hearing to take down blighted properties.

“We have owners all over the city that play the same game: they delay, delay, delay,” Davis said.

King said that in addition to bringing down the moribund abode swiftly and safely, he would push the city to fence off both Love’s lot and an adjacent city-owned lot to discourage camping. Residents complained they’d found a gun and needles and witnessed fires, prostitution and people defecating and “going Pulp Fiction” on each other there.

King invited residents to speak out at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the New Orleans City Council meeting, as he and other officials navigate what he called a “balancing act” in protecting both New Orleans’ housed and unhoused communities, after widespread encampment shutdowns.

“This could have been deadly,” King said. “This is a warning, and shame on us if we don’t take heed.”

Please follow and like us: