Schenectady County

Man sues, seeks $500K

The man whose State Street building was twice burned by squatters last year is blaming the city for
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The man whose State Street building was twice burned by squatters last year is blaming the city for the fires.

Michael Chrys is suing the city for $500,000 on the argument that he shouldn’t have had to check on his property and make sure that squatters weren’t pulling aside the plywood to climb in the windows. Keeping his building secure was the city’s responsibility, the Niskayuna man said in his lawsuit.

He also wants the city to pay for damage done by firefighters when they axed away three plate-glass windows to fight the fires.

The firefighters “caused severe structural damage to the premises” while putting out the fires on April 2 and April 17, 2007, he said.

His lawsuit goes to say that the city’s negligence left him unable to continue his business in the building. However, the building had long been vacant and no business was operating there.

City officials say they are at a loss as to how to respond to such an unusual lawsuit. It is the latest in a long line of puzzling legal arguments offered by Chrys as he fights the city over whether he should be fined for failing to maintain 322 State St.

Recently he told the court that the city was prosecuting the wrong man. He didn’t own the building, he said. Garner Properties LLC is the listed owner.

However, in his motion he also admitted that he was the sole principal of that corporation. A judge rejected his argument.

Several similar motions have also been denied, but the filings have delayed the trial for more than a year.

“We have been dancing around with Mr. Chrys for a year,” Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said. “He has some of the most creative arguments I have heard in 20 years. They’ve pulled out all the stops … including calling elected officials to pressure us.”

He said he thinks Chrys is trying to bog down the law department so that Van Norden drops the case to make time for bigger issues. But Van Norden doesn’t plan to back down, even though Chrys has now sold the building. Focus Construction is doing a complete rehab.

Chrys’ attorney, Scott Paton, declined to comment on the lawsuit. But Van Norden said he expects it to be tossed out immediately.

Legally, Van Norden said, the property owner — not the city — is responsible for keeping a building closed.

He said the fire department is also protected against lawsuits involving damage done to buildings during firefighting efforts. By law, he said, the department can be held liable only if firefighters stopped the owner from fighting the fire but then did not fight the fire themselves. That wasn’t the case in either of the 322 State St. fires. Chrys was not present when firefighters arrived for each alarm.

Chrys has also not completed the basic requirements for filing the lawsuit. When he filed his notice of claim — the precursor to a lawsuit — he had to submit to an informal hearing in which the city could question him. He never agreed to a hearing, which should have been the end of the matter. Van Norden was taken aback to learn he’d actually filed a lawsuit.

“This is very short-lived. He has failed to make himself available,” Van Norden said. “The court will throw it out.”

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