Illegal demolitions in New Orleans will face stiff penalties thanks to new legislation

Great news for historic preservation! Illegal building demolitions in New Orleans’ historic districts will now face much stiffer penalties, thanks to new state legislation that was signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards on June 18. The new rule becomes effective Aug. 1, 2022.

House Bill 193, introduced by Rep. Aimee Freeman and written thanks to research conducted by the Preservation Resource Center’s Nathan Lott, raises the maximum fine for unlawful building demolitions in New Orleans historic districts to $25,000 or 15 percent of the assessed value of the property — or whichever is greater.

Prior to this legislation, $10,000 was the maximum penalty allowed by state law for demolition without a certificate of appropriateness in a New Orleans historic district. In the context of a multimillion-dollar real estate development, the $10,000 maximum fine — established by a 1979 state law — was hardly sufficient deterrence from side-stepping the process for obtaining permits. In short, penalties had become the cost of doing business.

Now, with the passage of HB 193, the maximum fine for demolition without a certificate of appropriateness rises to a real deterrent. The 15 percent formula in the legislation aligns with a calculation that is already used in other portions of the city subject to the National Register Demolition Review District.

Earlier this year, Nathan Lott, PRC’s Policy Research Director and Advocacy Coordinator, analyzed how penalties are levied for illegal demolitions in jurisdictions across the country. (Read his research here) Lott’s findings were a catalyst for authoring this bill, along with input from the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission.

The PRC sincerely thanks Rep. Aimee Freeman and all of the state legislators who supported this important historic preservation issue. This change will prompt people to think twice before ignoring or sidestepping the permit process in New Orleans historic districts.