$1.63 tax bill battle stretches to 7 years

SLIDELL, La. – An unpaid property tax bill for $1.63 has given Kermit and Dolores Atwood “seven years of emotional hell” in a fight to keep their home.

The bill was sent to a defunct address in 1996 and returned undelivered.

“The sheriff’s office could have easily found us,” Dolores Atwood said. “We’re in the phone book.”

Instead, the Atwoods’ home was sold at a sheriff’s auction in 1997 to American Land Investments because of the delinquent bill.

The State Tax Commission eventually nullified the 1997 sale, but when the Atwoods tried to sell the house in 2002, they discovered that American Land Investments had sold the property rights to Jamie Land Co., which then sued the Atwoods because, it said, the commission gave the company no notice when it annulled the tax sale.

Without a clear title, the couple couldn’t sell the house. Then in 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck. Dolores Atwood said they didn’t have insurance, and because of the title, they didn’t qualify for federal rebuilding help.

“I don’t know how much more I can endure,” said Atwood, 69, who lives in a FEMA trailer in front of the still-damaged home north of Slidell. Her husband, 71 and on a respirator, lives with relatives. She said the couple had been through “seven years of emotional hell.”

The couple have won several court challenges, but now Jamie Land Co. plans to ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to take up the case.

“I don’t owe him 50 cents,” Atwood said of the company’s president, “not with what he’s put me through.”

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