A city man is initiating a lawsuit against the city of Schenectady and its Code Enforcement Department, claiming it performed illegal home inspections, and seeking damages for making him move out.
Michael Washington, formerly of 308 Craig St., is moving to sue because he said he became homeless after Code Enforcement called for tenants of the single-family home to vacate due to unsafe conditions.
“Petitioner and his roommates [were] forced to be homeless and deprived of access to their belongings that [were] located on the subject premises,” the precursor to a lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Schenectady County states. “One roommate, a disabled, had required an oxygen tank to assist him in breathing was also left out on the streets.”
The city says the people living at the site had plenty of notice.
Code Enforcement called for tenants to vacate the home in October and again last month, according to city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico.
According to Code Enforcement records, tenants were ordered to vacate the home by Oct. 16, because of there being no electrical service to the building. But they did not move out.
The city foreclosed on the property last month because the property owner — Epiphany Holdings LLC of South Carolina — was not paying taxes, Falotico said.
Epiphany owes about $5,000 in taxes for 2013, according to city records. Epiphany purchased the property in 2009 for $5,000.
“Code was over there before the foreclosure went into effect,” Falotico said. “They found the building didn’t have power. That’s why they were ordered to vacate. Another order to vacate happened after the foreclosure went into effect, when they inspected foreclosed properties, because there was still no power.”
Housing inspector Joseph Pangione cited 308 Craig St. in October for accumulation of garbage and debris in the basement and no smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors on the first or second floor.
Washington claims that National Grid shut the power to the home at the direction of the city and that the power was on when Code Enforcement inspected the property.
He also claims that last month Code Enforcement inspectors “threatened everyone and told them that they must leave when they returned and shut down and padlocked the front door.”
Washington claims that he would have worked to bring the property up to code if he was “properly, adequately and timely served with notice.” He did receive a notice of foreclosure, according to his claim, but not any prior notices of the property violations.
Washington is seeking ownership of the property and for the city to pay $10,000 plus any additional damages.
Falotico said the city is standing by its actions and said Washington does not have a case.
“Nobody was supposed to be living in that building,” he said. “After the foreclosure, their right to the property was terminated. I’m confident that a judge is not going to find that we have any duty for this tenant to let him back in. But we will work with him as much as possible.”
He added that when the city forecloses on a property with tenants, they are referred to the Schenectady County Social Services or the Schenectady Community Action Program.
“We give everyone the phone number of a city employee to help them get their belongings and help them transport belongings to a new residence,” Falotico said.
He said it’s a difficult situation that happens a lot in the city where property owners don’t pay taxes: The city forecloses on a property and tenants are required to move out.
“We have property owners that don’t maintain these buildings,” Falotico said. “We’re not looking to put people in positions where they are put out of their homes, but we can’t keep people in unsafe housing.”
He added that displaced tenants don’t often sue the city.
“We really do bend over backwards for people and it’s a shame that the owner didn’t keep up the property,” Falotico said. “I strongly believe we are justified. Historically, we have seen this very infrequently.”
In his petition, Washington also speculates that the city is moving to foreclose on the property so it could be demolished. The city plans to demolish 310 Craig St. next door sometime this summer.
The claim states, “He can only speculate that the respondents are doing this because they had made plans to demolish the abandoned building next door to him as part of their $10 million neighborhood revitalization program.”
The city is leveraging a $3 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loan and $2.5 million in funding from the state Attorney General’s Office to demolish blighted properties citywide.
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Categories: News, Schenectady County