"We had a decent span," says longtime Point resident Richard Legnon. "In 33 years, it's my third bad storm." Hurricane Lili washed mud into camps three years ago. But the storm surge and hurricane-force winds of Rita caused far more damage and have also changed the complexion of a dispute between land owner Cypremort Point Inc. and approximately 150 tenants, who have been fighting the company's increases in rent.
Tenants were notified last November that leases would rise in cost anywhere from 240-1,200 percent ("Point Taken," April 27). Many claimed they were unable to pay the new prices and unable to sell their camps, because no buyer wanted to take on the escalating costs of leasing the land. Following months of tension, CPI reversed its policy earlier this summer after an initial refusal to sell land that camp owners had been leasing for decades. Still, tenant organization Tenants at Cypremort Point filed suit against CPI on June 30, claiming that CPI was unjustly profiting through exorbitant rent increases.
In an August interview, CPI Development Manager Robert Guillotte said sales were brisk. "It's going very well. When you sign seven buy-sells in one day, that's a good business." Guillotte defended the corporation's pricing. "I'm selling property. If the property at Cypremort Point was overvalued, why would people who don't already have a camp want to buy property there? It's the recreational value you're buying. People need to understand that. You can't justify a man who goes fishing. You can go to the grocery store and buy fish a lot cheaper."
Realtor Frank Brown, who has been involved in Cypremort Point real estate for decades, said in August that those sales couldn't be compared to a traditional market. "The prices are high. It's not really an open market transaction. There's nothing you can do." On the flip side, he says that once people buy their lots, they will be encouraged to improve their camps, ultimately raising property values. "It's going to be good for Cypremort Point," he concluded.
The first 60 parcels were offered to tenants in March, April and May. Three sales were recorded in July at the St. Mary Parish courthouse: one Cove Row property for $100,000, and two located along Hwy. 319 fetched $40,000 and $31,000. Guillotte said he had more than 20 buy-sell agreements signed in early August. According to the St. Mary Parish Clerk of Court's office, there were three sales in August, nine in September and one in October.
But some renters turned down CPI's offer, claiming the land is overvalued. "They called and offered $168,000," said Cove Row camp owner Lonnie Bewley in August. "It's worth half of that in my opinion. Prior to this I had an appraisal of my camp and pier at $280,000. Let's suppose that it's worth $260,000. Add in the $168,000 lot, you're up to $428,000 for a camp. Who's going to pay that?"
The lawsuit was scheduled to go to court this fall, but after Rita caused massive destruction to many tenant's camps, attitudes have changed. "The people who bought, bought under duress," says TACP President Weldon Taquino. "They bought because they had a big investment. They bought because they had no choice. The people who bought at top dollar, I think they got screwed. People who want to buy now say there is a lot of negotiating going on after the storm."
Some lessees are putting thoughts of negotiation on hold while they ponder the costs of rebuilding. Ann Boutte's camp was knocked off its 10-foot pilings. The structure is so unstable neither the family nor the insurance adjuster is willing to go inside. Homeowner's insurance doesn't cover damage from rising water, and Boutte didn't have flood insurance.
The Bouttes bought the house in 1999 for $25,000 and spent another $20,000 to fix it after storm damage from Hurricane Lili in 2002. The lease was $300 annually when they bought the camp. It has gone up to $1,000 a year and is scheduled to go up to $3,000 next year when the existing three-year contract expires.
"Do they [CPI] think we're going to buy the land and then rebuild the camp?" Boutte asks. Boutte contends that the land her camp stood on is swampland. She adds that if the coast keeps eroding, the land will be worth even less. "It was rumored that they're going to sell these lots for $40,000," she says. "No one has contacted us. If we were going to pay $40,000 for a piece of land, we'd buy it along the bayou in New Iberia. There's other land in other places."
The Bouttes haven't made any decisions. The level of destruction is still too raw in Ann's mind. "We had new furniture, every stick of it. A new side-by-side refrigerator, a new dishwasher ' I haven't even used it. The beds are still made with clean sheets. We just about lived here. It was nice while it lasted," she says with a sigh.
A renter since 1986, Gerald Adams' camp sustained considerable damage from the storm surge. He says he couldn't afford flood insurance. "I got to pull the roof off, and the inside's no good," he says. Adams has been through numerous storms: Andrew, Danny, Lili and Rita. He is willing to weather another hurricane ' under one condition. "If I owned the land, I'd stay. I'd improve this place. It's the only way I'll get my money out now. I heard this (lot) was selling for between $42,000 and $44,000. My lease is $4,200 a year. Do you think this place is worth that?" he grumbles. "If I leave, I'm going to take my camp with me," he says. "CPI ought to be out here talking to us. We're not getting a fair shake."
CPI's Guillotte declined to comment following Hurricane Rita, and CPI attorney Raymond Allain did not return a call for comment. Taquino contends that CPI is no longer in a position of power. For those with flood insurance, Taquino contends, the storm has created a way out of the dilemma. "Thirty, 40 people in the tenants group will take their insurance money and run," he says. But even if tenants didn't have insurance, the situation has changed. "People lost their investments. The pressure to buy the property has been greatly reduced," Taquino says. "It seems like Rita called [CPI's] bluff."
Black Friday shopping begins; Pope visiting Turkey; oil prices decline and more national and international news for Friday, November 28, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.