Schenectady County

Surprise: Part of yard isn’t theirs

Melisa Ellers didn’t think anything of the Collar City Auctions mailer she received several weeks ag

Melisa Ellers didn’t think anything of the Collar City Auctions mailer she received several weeks ago.

The 8-page brochure seemed to blend in with the usual clutter of junk mail she receives each week at her Barton Avenue home. In fact, she didn’t even bother to peruse the foreclosure properties set for auction until a neighbor showed her a listing that included her mailing address and a picture of the hedge row on the edge of her property.

“I thought he was joking,” she said Monday.

But the neighbor wasn’t joking. Schenectady County foreclosed on the five-foot-wide swath of land running 120 feet back to the rear of Ellers’ property because Concetta Grasso, the former owner of the house, neglected to pay taxes on the sliver for more than a decade.

The tax bill on the sliver totals $5.50 per year.

The foreclosed sliver wouldn’t pose much of an issue for Ellers and her husband Bryan, if it weren’t for their garage encroaching into it. The edge of the structure rests about a foot into the small parcel, meaning a new owner could theoretically demand that the Ellerses demolish the structure.

Now they’re fearing a bidder may purchase the sliver in order to sell it back to them at an inflated price. This fear was augmented by the number of people who have stopped by to look at the property since it was listed in a legal ad in the Gazette last week.

“People were actually stopping in front of my house and my neighbor said it was probably because [the address] was in the paper,” she said.

The Ellerses purchased the house about two years ago. At the time, the attorney who handled the closing and the title service agency found no issues regarding the property.

“To my knowledge, there is no issue with the property that they purchased,” said attorney Charles Rosenstein in an email. “There was no reason for me to say anything to the Ellerses about any adjoining parcel be it small, medium or large during the time that I represented them.”

The Ellerses’ garage was actually the reason the parcel existed in the first place. Grasso subdivided her lot to allow the construction of a single-family home during the late 1960s.

But, by accident, the line where the subdivision was drawn ended up cutting into the area where Grasso’s garage stood. The neighbor was happy to amend the error by deeding the small sliver back to Grasso years ago.

Only Grasso never joined the two parcels. And when she moved to a retirement home in 1997, the sliver was all but forgotten.

The next two owners of the house didn’t pay the taxes on the sliver of land either, because it wasn’t sold to them with the house, and the Ellerses haven’t paid in the two years they’ve owned the house.

Over time, the annual taxes on the small property accumulated and the county eventually initiated foreclosure proceedings. County Attorney Chris Gardner said foreclosing on and auctioning off similar sliver properties is commonplace, but is being pursued harder by the county now to help combat dwindling revenues.

“We’re being more aggressive about it,” he said.

Among the 57 properties being auctioned by Collar City this month, 13 are valued at less than $1,000. Among those, three are valued at $100, including the narrow slice next to the Ellerses’ home.

Gardner said the county doesn’t deviate from the auction process unless a local law is passed by members of its Legislature, an arduous process that can take weeks. He said the best option for the Ellerses is to simply show up at the auction and bid for the property.

“If they want it, they can buy it at auction for $100,” he said.

The Ellerses do plan to bid on the land.

Gardner also said the Ellerses’ fears about someone buying the sliver to resell it to them is simply unfounded. But that didn’t ease any of the tension the Ellerses are feeling.

“They didn’t have to put it out to auction,” she said. “They could have come to us instead.”

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