Guest Post: Lack of Clear Title Delays Flood Recovery

This is a guest post from Tara Richard with the Louisiana Appleseed Network.  For questions regarding information found in this post, please contact the Louisiana Appleseed Network at www.FloodProofLa.org or by calling 1-844-244-7871.

A major barrier to disaster recovery in the Capital Area is an often overlooked problem -- people living in family property passed down through generations without using the legal system. Now through the generous support of the United Way there is a solution.  

Many low-income homeowners have not been able to return to their homes since the August 2016 floods, often because they do not have clear title to their property. Many live in or own “heir” property which was passed down by family members informally, outside of the legal system. Without clear ownership, homeowners often cannot access recovery grants, insurance proceeds, or loans needed to rebuild and return to their homes.

Families who cannot prove ownership of the place they call home need legal assistance before they can qualify for recovery funds. The property is usually passed down through an informal understanding – often verbally, between relatives. Yet a succession or heirship affidavit needs to be filed in order to legally reflect that transfer. This process used to be expensive and time-consuming.  But, thanks to the nonprofit Louisiana Appleseed and its attorney volunteers, the law now provides a cheaper and faster way to get this done.  

The really good news is that, now, thanks to Capital Area United Way and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, free legal help for these families to get it done is available through a program called Flood Proof: Free Legal Help for Homeowners with Title Problems. Southeast Louisiana Legal Services is leading the project. Vulnerable homeowners in need of services can call 1-844-244-7871, can walk into SLLS’ 715 St. Ferdinand Street office in Baton Rouge, or can learn more at www.FloodProofLa.org. There’s even a mobile phone app for Android and iPhones called Louisiana Legal Help.  

Residents in East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston Parishes who are unable to prove ownership of their home may be eligible for free legal services through the Flood Proof title clearing project.  Attorneys and volunteers with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, the Baton Rouge Bar Association, LSU Law Center and Southern University Law Center are available to help residents take legal steps to prove ownership of their homes.

If families do not seek help and do not get clear title, recovery in these areas will be significantly delayed because those families will not receive money to rebuild or restore. Blight will become a problem in our neighborhoods.  Families will lose property that took generations to acquire. The lack of clear title to property has far-reaching and serious consequences to both individuals and their communities throughout the state.  This is never more apparent than after a disaster like the August 2016 floods.

Families that did not flood but live in deceased relative’s house also should take proactive steps and legally transfer title to inherited property – to ensure that clear title passes to the proper heir. Only then can they build wealth and protect their property, helping not only themselves, but generations to come, and the community at large.

More information can be found on the FloodProofLa.org website.