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Stop Knocking Our Houses Down, Owners Say

CHALMETTE, La. (CN) - Homeowners whose St. Bernard Parish houses were drenched in storm surges after Hurricane Katrina face new struggles to rebuild as St. Bernard Parish authorities arbitrarily demolish houses, say property owners. Ten property owners sued the Parish in the past week, saying the Parish demolished their homes, or threaten to do so, though the owners have permits to rehabilitate them.

Glenn Sandrock says his house was demolished in January 2008, though he had "timely filed and was granted an appeal to the defendant's forced demolition order," and his home complied with St. Bernard Parish's housing standards. Six months after his house was demolished, Sandrock says, he received notice of a setting for the Parish's final hearing of his appeal.

Judy Henderson says her house was demolished though she had applied to work to restore it. Her 6-month period for renovation commenced on Nov. 17, 2008.

Gene Labit said he has not completed his property renovations, but the Parish threatens to destroy his home because "the system being used to determine if and when a particular home is going to be demolished appears to be disorganized and the fact that petitioners have received conflicting and inconsistent information from the Office of Community Development pertaining to their property."

Kerr Howell says repairs to his Chalmette home are "essentially complete." Nevertheless, he received a phone call from the parish government stating that the house was up for demolition. After the call, Howell went to the property and found that the electricity had already been disconnected and the meter removed. Howell says he went to the St. Bernard Office of Safety and Permits, which had recently issued a building permit to him, and was told that his house was not going to be torn down and that the phone call and disconnected electricity were mistakes. Since then, however, the demolition process has continued, "whereby now the gas meter has been removed from the property and the sewage line has been dug up."

Vicky, Velicity and Velina Abdo say their Meraux house was demolished on Christmas Eve, though they had been granted an extension in November to secure permits and start rebuilding.

Plaintiffs in all 10 lawsuits seek restraining orders, injunctive relief and damages.

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