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What you need to know for 01/21/2018

House burns, and Schenectady pays

House burns, and Schenectady pays

The owner of the vacant State Street house that burned down Monday is in state prison, city official
House burns, and Schenectady pays
Schenectady firefighters Jon Wayand and Lt. Chris Carroll, battle a 2-alarm fire in a vacant building at 822 State Street, after flames broke out shortly before 7 a.m. Monday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

The owner of the vacant State Street house that burned down Monday is in state prison, city officials discovered this week, complicating efforts to deal with the charred remains.

It is yet another example of the mire the city finds itself in when it tries to resolve just one case of blight.

In this case, the owner left no one to maintain the properties whilst locked up. In addition, he now says that the State Street building was foreclosed upon, but Wells Fargo — the mortgage-holder — never filed paperwork finalizing a foreclosure.

That leaves the building in limbo. And it’s not the only one. Prakash Singh, 48, of Amsterdam, owns four buildings in the city. One of them appears to be his primary residence, but the others have been abandoned, neglected and possibly illegally rented, city officials said.

And since he is in prison, they have little hope that he will start maintaining them. They said he is an example of what they must deal with in trying to clean up blight in the city.

“Here we have not just one property, but four properties,” said Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett. “Then we have the squatters, then we have the fires, then we have the demolition costs.”

The city spent $24,250 on the demolition of the burned-out, two-story house at 822 State St., and might have to spend $2,000 more to take down trees behind the building.

Bennett stressed that there was no reason why a prisoner could not arrange to have his properties cared for during his absence. Singh could have designated an agent — such as a friend or relative — to pay taxes and maintain the properties. He also could have hired a company to rent out and maintain the buildings.

Singh is serving a six-year prison term for robbing a bank in Amsterdam. With good behavior, he could get parole as early as 2016.

But Bennett noted he was hardly the first person to go to prison while owning property.

“Those things can happen. He still has responsibilities. He doesn’t get away from them because he’s in prison,” Bennett said. “Here’s a guy who’s left no forwarding address for the city.”

Prison officials reported to Bennett that Singh said he’d lost the house in foreclosure in 2008, but the mortgage was transferred to Wells Fargo in 2009, and Singh is still listed in 2014 as the title holder in Schenectady County records.

Either Singh isn’t telling the truth, Bennett said, or Wells Fargo threatened foreclosure and never finished the process. So many banks have not finished foreclosure after getting the owners to leave the property that the state Attorney General’s Office is proposing legislation to stop them.

The law would require banks to take responsibility for a property as soon as owners move out. Currently, they don’t have to do anything until they file the new title at the very end of the process, which sometimes takes years.

In many cases, owners move out as soon as they get the foreclosure notice, not realizing how long the process takes. Sometimes houses are vandalized while in foreclosure limbo, or left to slowly fall apart if the bank never formally takes the building.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman calls those houses “zombie properties” and says they are “a blight on our communities.”

The Schenectady City Council voted Monday to approve a resolution of support for the legislation.

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