Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Parish to start FEMA trailer lawsuits

After 16 months of administrative cajoling, Jefferson Parish officials said Tuesday that they will begin filing lawsuits this week against any persistent denizens of FEMA trailers.

Inspectors found 600 illegal trailers lingering in unincorporated areas during the weekend: 421 in West Jefferson and 179 in East Jefferson. That's down from a peak of more than 17,000 in the summer of 2006.

Parish attorneys will go to court Thursday with the first 30 lawsuits against property owners with FEMA-issued trailers on their land, Parish President Aaron Broussard's administration said. The process will continue until all trailers have been targeted.
The threat of lawsuits is the latest and most aggressive effort to date in the public campaign to return Jefferson's neighborhoods to their appearances before Hurricane Katrina.

"It's been long enough," said Kennith Lassalle, president of the Civic League of East Jefferson. "There may be a few people with extenuating circumstances, but not as many as there are trailers."

Soon after the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane, the Parish Council suspended the law banning travel trailers in single-family zoning districts. By January 2007, parish officials were pressing to remove them, and code-enforcement inspectors started combing neighborhoods to post warning signs on trailer doors. As residents continued to rebuild their storm-damaged houses, the Broussard administration granted several extensions for the trailers' removal, then drew a line in the sand: March 1 was the deadline for the parish to begin considering lawsuits.

Kenner has taken a similar approach, with a deadline of May 31. After that, property owners could be subject to lawsuits, city officials say. According to the latest estimates, about 400 trailers remain in Kenner, down from a post-Katrina high of about 4,000.

Gretna this month counted 40 trailers, all but eight deactivated and awaiting FEMA pickup. Though its deadline for removing trailers was Jan. 1, residents could secure an extension if they could prove they were still repairing their houses. At last week's City Council meeting, Gretna officials said they will start issuing citations for remaining trailers in upcoming weeks.

Westwego has only a handful of trailers, and officials are pressing FEMA to remove them. The city has not renewed permits for residents with trailers.

A single trailer awaiting FEMA collection remains in Harahan, a city once home to about 200, Mayor Paul Johnston said.
In unincorporated areas, parish officials said any property owner who has asked FEMA to remove a trailer, but is still waiting for it to be hauled away, may avoid a lawsuit by submitting a signed and notarized affidavit to the parish attorney's office. Information about the process is available on the parish's Web site:

Lassalle, the Civic League president, said FEMA is partly to blame for trailers still in Jefferson Parish.

"At two of the trailers in my neighborhood, there's been no one living in them for eight or nine months, but FEMA just hasn't picked them up," said Lassalle, who lives in the Suburban Terrace neighborhood in Old Jefferson.
Parish officials said FEMA is trying to provide rental assistance and other help for trailer residents. FEMA's rental-resources phone number is (888) 294-2822. Its Web site is

Help also is available from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at and (866) 373-9509.