New Orleans property owners who live next door to vacant structures that have been taken over by the city because of unpaid taxes will get first dibs on purchasing those sites if they maintain them for at least one year, under an ordinance passed by the City Council this week.

Under the “Mow to Own” program, the city will be able to forgo the usual state-mandated public auction and sell a property directly to an adjacent neighbor for fair market value.

State law permits such direct sales when the adjoining property owner maintains the property for at least one year before the sale.

“The program is designed to reduce blight, especially in weak markets,” said Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who introduced the ordinance.

“I hope it will give us another tool in our tool kit toward blight remediation,” Cantrell said. “We need to do more to remediate blight and get properties back into commerce.”

The program will apply only to vacant properties that already are subject to a tax sale, Cantrell said. A property owner must maintain the property continuously for one year after applying to the program in order to be eligible to buy it. An adjoining property is defined as one “to the right or the left,” under the ordinance passed Thursday.

If more than one neighbor applies to purchase an empty lot, the city will sell the property to both owners in joint ownership at fair market value, in lieu of holding an auction.

If more than one neighbor applies to purchase a site that has a structure on it, the property will be ineligible for the program and will be sold at auction to the highest bidder.

Some details of the program still have to be worked out, Cantrell said.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration will draft rules and regulations that will be presented to the council for approval at a later date.