Residents who tend their neighbors’ blighted property in Baton Rouge will be able to skip the public auction when the land goes up for sale.

On Wednesday, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council unanimously created the Mow to Own program. Sponsor Tara Wicker said people frequently call her office to find out about adjudicated properties that may be available for purchase because the owners have not paid their taxes. That shows a desire to invest in communities with abandoned properties, Wicker said.

Some residents already maintain adjoining land to protect their own property values, Wicker said. The new program will reward their efforts. By cutting the grass on adjudicated property for at least a year, a resident will be able to make the Metro Council an offer to buy the land rather than competing for it in an auction, Assistant Parish Attorney William Aaron explained.

Several other cities, including New Orleans and St. Louis, have similar programs.

Making Mow to Own work will depend on a bit of trust. To qualify, participants will self-report that they have taken care of the property and just need another person — like a neighbor — to sign an affidavit confirming the work was completed, Aaron said.

Then the prospective buyer can make the Metro Council an offer. Councilman Chandler Loupe wondered if land could be bought for as little as a dollar. It’s possible, but the Metro Council will have to approve the bid, and both sides will get information about buildings on site, back taxes and other factors to figure out a fair price city attorneys explained.

Landowners already have opportunities to buy adjoining property, but Mow to Own codifies the rules and is intended to make people aware of the option, Wicker said.

The city-parish will still observe other rules governing property sales, such as informing the owner of the adjudicated land and any lienholders of the sale, said Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson.

The city also will pull property records to make sure the prospective buyer owns land on an adjoining lot, and only adjacent property owners apply; owning property across the street doesn’t count under the program, Aaron said.

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