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New Orleans legal maneuver could allow government to rebuild private property

[JURIST] Officials and community advocates in New Orleans have proposed using the Roman law concept of usufruct [backgrounder] to allow authorities to gain temporary control of privately owned homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive]. Coming into Louisiana state law via the French and Spanish civil code traditions, usufruct gives a party the temporary legal right to use and profit from property that belongs to another so long as they do not change the nature of that property. The decimated homes, in neighborhoods that stretch beyond the popular French Quarter and Garden District, have no power, water or other means of recovery. Mtumishi St. Julien, a longtime community advocate, housing advisor to Mayor Michael C. Ray Nagin and executive director of the Finance Agency of New Orleans, supports the proposal because many property owners do not have the means to fix their own property. If the proposal is incorporated into legislation, authorities will form agreements with property owners not planning to return to New Orleans in the near future to sign over controlling rights of the property to the government in exchange for the government taking over mortgage payments and arranging to rebuild the homes. After an agreed-upon time, the original property owners might return if they can repay the government for the repairs made, or allow the government to sell the properties and share in the profits or losses. The Los Angeles Times has more.

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