"I don't even know who to thank," Dolores Atwood, 69, said after the settlement returned the property title to her and her 71-year-old husband. "But I'm relieved and happy that this is finally over."
The local businessman who paid Jamie Land Co. to settle the lawsuit wants to remain anonymous for now, said his attorney, Gary Duplechain. He stepped forward after reading about the Atwoods' plight.
Jamie Land President James Lindsay II said the agreement reached Tuesday calls for the amount paid to remain undisclosed. "But it wasn't a lot of money," he said.
In 1996, a tax bill for $1.63 was sent to the Atwoods at an old mailing address and returned undelivered to the sheriff's office, which sold the property in July 1997 for $1.63 in delinquent taxes, 10 cents interest and $125 in costs associated with the tax sale.
As a result, the home was sold at a St. Tammany Parish sheriff's auction in 1997.
The Atwoods had owned the four-bedroom house mortgage-free since 1968 and had been exempt from the state tax.
The State Tax Commission eventually nullified the sale, but when the Atwoods tried to sell the house in 2002, they discovered that Jamie Land Co. still had the property rights. Since then, legal battles had kept the property tied up.
Lindsay argued his rights were violated when the tax commission didn't inform him of its decision. Last month an appeals court sided with the Atwoods, and Jamie Land had been planning to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The house was heavily damaged by 2005's Hurricane Katrina, and because of the suit, the Atwoods had not been able to apply for state storm recovery assistance.
Dolores Atwood, who was living in a trailer provided by the federal government to storm victims, said having the title will allow them to apply for assistance to help repair damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. She's been staying in the trailer on the property while her husband, Kermit, who is on a respirator, lives with relatives.
"I'm tired of living in a FEMA trailer," she said.