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Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News
Email: mperlstein@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mperlstein

AVONDALE, La. -- In a modest neighborhood in Avondale, Cora Jupiter's yard stands out. Surrounded by abandoned houses, empty lots and overgrown weeds, her yard is immaculate.

'I have great-grandchildren out here playing. So I try to keep everything clean around here,' Jupiter said.

Jupiter gets family members to cut the grass, while she tends to her beloved roses herself. Even so, inspectors with Jefferson Parish Code Enforcement still come by periodically, threatening to mow her lawn because of 'high weeds.'

'I don't know why,' Jupiter said. 'Because every time they pass here, this yard is cut. Everyone around here knows this yard is always cut.'

The unwelcome visits by parish workers appears to be the result of a bureaucratic mistake dating back more than 10 years. Parish paperwork documenting the complaints of an overgrown lawn shows the wrong address for the house.

The property owner, Michelle Schubert, has tried for the past decade to correct the address and reverse the fines and penalties, but she has not been able to cut through the red tape. Now, she is on the verge of losing her property if the bureaucratic bungle is not resolved by August.

Schubert remembers when the roller-coaster began shortly after she purchased the property and its modest bungalow.

'One day I come out and there's nothing but dirt on the ground, no grass. And I'm looking around and my fence is damaged,' she said.

According to documents, Jefferson Parish billed Schubert for the grass cutting shortly after she purchased the property in 2002. The fine was $2,500.

That's when Schubert, a realtor, began trying to undo the mistake. She went from one official to another to try and reverse the error, but never got a satisfactory answer.

'They told me, 'Yeah, we came out and we bush-hogged it' I said, 'Why did you do that?' They said, 'Well, we were working off the previous violation.' I said, 'But I took care of that.''

'Ever since then, I've been on a hamster wheel I couldn't get off of.'

Schubert's photographs from the parish were logged as evidence to support the complaint. Problem is, they show the wrong lot. In the background of one of the pictures you can see Schubert's well-kept property.

'I explained to them that the pictures they took of my property were not actually my property,' she said. 'It was the lot next door.'

Schubert said she tried everything to resolve the issue. She went to the parish code enforcement office and parish attorney's office multiple times, speaking to a revolving cast of officials. But instead of getting resolved, the parish continued to add late fees and penalties.

Unable to resolve the problem on her own, Schubert was forced to hire an attorney. She retained Tom Donelon, a real estate specialist, but even he had difficulty getting his arms around the boondoggle.

'I've been doing this for years, and I had problems,' Donelon said.

Donelon said that frequent turnover in the parish bureaucracy made a difficult situation even more so.

'You can get into with one of the attorneys, and by the time you get three-quarters of the way through it, that attorney is gone and you have to start the whole process over. So that didn't help the situation either,' Donelon said.

Eventually, Schubert's unpaid bill ballooned to more than $7,000. When the parish put a lien on the house, somebody bought the property at a tax sale. That gave Schubert three years to pay the debt or lose the house. Her deadline is Aug. 12.

'It's very, very mentally draining,' Schubert said. 'In a few years from now, I probably won't even have the strength to fight this even more. Because I'm, like, chicken-fried done. Stick a fork in me.'

But there may be a happy ending to this story. Since Channel 4 began researching Schubert's problem, the parish attorney's office has approached her about a settlement.

Through a spokesperson, the Jefferson Parish attorney's office said it could not comment on the case because the matter is still in litigation.

Ultimately, Schubert's difficulties may help others who get caught in a similar situation.

Schubert's state representative, Robert Billiot, R-Westwego, has filed a bill to keep property owners from having to pay liens and fines that were levied by mistake.

Billiot's legislation, House Bill No. 1117, had been rejected by lawmakers in previous sessions. But this year the prospects look much better. The bill unanimously passed the House last week and has now moved to the Senate.

'It's been a long time,' remarked Schubert, 'I'd hate to have to see anybody else go through this.'

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