Schenectady County

City nets razing costs

Threats of jail time persuaded a local landlord to reimburse the city for the cost of demolishing hi
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Threats of jail time persuaded a local landlord to reimburse the city for the cost of demolishing his fire-damaged house, Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said.

Scott McLaughlin, of Troy, made his final payment to the city on Tuesday, paying off the $60,000 cost of removing his rental property at 1851-1853 Van Vranken Ave.

When McLaughlin agreed to pay off the bill last October, Van Norden announced it as the first success in the city’s new policy of getting arrest warrants to force owners to pay for demolition of their derelict property.

Since then, the city has gotten a handful of warrants, Van Norden said, but none has led to a similar agreement. McLaughlin turned himself in when his warrant was issued, but no one else has responded.

“I believe we were blown off,” Van Norden said of one property owner’s response to the warrant.

Issuing a warrant doesn’t mean the owner is arrested at once. The warrant is only enforced if the owner is stopped by police for other reasons. But if police run the owner’s record for any reason — even to write a speeding ticket — the owner could wind up in handcuffs.

“[The warrants are] just hanging out there waiting to be executed when someone gets into trouble,” Van Norden said.

He has seen one slight success. When he sent out a nuisance violation appearance ticket to the owner of a burned-out house on Grant Avenue, the owner actually showed up in court. Normally, they don’t, which gives the city the power to ask for an arrest warrant.

“It hasn’t been wildly successful,” Van Norden said. “But maybe people are finally waking up and realizing we’re serious about this.”

He said he’s pleased that the policy at least got McLaughlin to pay off the city’s demolition bill, saving the taxpayers $60,000.

“That’s quite successful,” Van Norden said. “We will continue to do this to help save the taxpayers’ money.”

He said jail time seems to be a more effective threat than the letters that were repeatedly sent out to owners in the past.

“I think the threat of jail time is a powerful suggestive tool,” he said.

But as he turns his focus to the pile of bricks on Brandywine Avenue, where the Brandywine Avenue school once stood, he said jail time might not be effective enough.

The owners of the building owe the city about $436,500 for demolition and removal of the school, which was destroyed in a fire on Nov. 16.

“The numbers are a lot bigger. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the principals don’t have that kind of money. My guess is none of them are multimillionaires,” Van Norden said.

After all, it took McLaughlin months to come up with $60,000, and that was after a year of negotiations.

Van Norden said in the Brandywine Avenue School case, the city’s time would be better spent going after the company that insured the building. Officials there have indicated to Van Norden that they won’t pay because the building owners allegedly left the school’s front doors open, allowing teenagers to get inside. Two teenagers were charged with setting a fire inside the building.

Van Norden said he will start pressing the insurance company in a few weeks.

“We’ve waited a long time, and within four to six weeks the demolition and removal will be done,” Van Norden said.

But he expects a hard fight. After all, he can’t threaten to arrest the insurers.

“They may be willing to pay pennies on the dollar, or 50 cents on the dollar,” Van Norden said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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