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'Eviction Squad' faces eviction in Schenectady

'Eviction Squad' faces eviction in Schenectady

City trying to foreclose on Gaston Hooks' property
'Eviction Squad' faces eviction in Schenectady
Gaston Hooks with his dog at the corner of State Street and Brandywine Avenue on April 13, 2018.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY — What happens when the evictor becomes the evicted?

Just ask Gaston Hooks Jr., a man who evicts people for a living. 

Hooks is a familiar sight in Schenectady, a process server who cruises city streets dishing out notices from his quasi-official-looking Crown Victoria, serving divorce papers, settlements, and yes, evictions.

He dresses like a cop and is accompanied by two German shepherds.

Now Hooks is running the risk of being evicted himself for failure to pay his back property taxes.

“My back is against the wall," Hooks said. 

The city has Hooks on the hook for $4,463.69 for back taxes on his Vale Village home from 2017. 

Hooks has filed a formal challenge with the city Corporation Counsel’s Office and awaits a court date to argue his case. 

“I’m waiting for the city’s response to my answer,” Hooks said.

‘BACK AGAINST THE WALL’

The two-family home at 24 Mynderse St. serves as Hooks' Eviction Squad of New York base of operations. Hooks says he also lives at the address.

Hooks, 63, says he has been serving eviction papers for 49 years. He recalls getting his start when a property owner asked him to station a pair of guard dogs at a Mont Pleasant duplex to hasten the departure of straggling tenants. 

They left.

Hooks admits his approach is unconventional, but he claims 80 percent of the people he serves leave voluntarily. He said he links them up with social service agencies to soften the blow. 

“Just because I’m different doesn’t make it wrong,” Hooks said.

Hooks grew up nearby, and his uncle purchased the two-family home in 2016 before deeding it to him the following year.

Their goal was to repair the building and convert it into a home for veterans called the Richard G. McNeal Memorial House for the Needy.

“Our goal was to rent rooms to homeless veterans,” Hooks said.

But he claims the city’s Code Department flooded him with violations, and fighting the charges in court drained his resources and prevented him from generating income. 

“I wouldn’t be in this spot if the city didn’t wear me down,” Hooks said. “I could have worked and made money for taxes."

He estimated he’d been cited 500 times in the past three years.

Hooks is currently facing at least 13 open violations that haven’t been issued court dates yet, according to the Corporation Counsel’s Office.

Those include tickets for missing windows, deteriorating front porch panels and for trash accumulation. 

And five additional violations have been assigned a court date.

‘AN EYESORE’

Hooks discussed the issue while perched on a bright yellow motorcycle with his dogs, Jasper and Samantha, underfoot.

He has also run afoul of authorities by filling the city-owned lot next door with debris and business-related paraphernalia, including two squad cars, a boat (which has sprouted weeds), numerous appliances and the placard signs he is no longer allowed to display on Brandywine Avenue after the lot owner died and the estate yanked his access to the property.

Hooks wants to purchase the lot, but is prohibited from doing so because he owes back taxes.

But an agreement allows him to utilize half of it, he said.

Many of the violations, he said, stem from the barn located in his densely-wooded backyard. 

Hooks said he was dinged for numerous violations for leaving items in the yard while cleaning out the site, which wraps around and connects to his mother’s backyard at nearby 28 Mynderse St.

Chief Building Inspector Chris Lunn said he hopes the city will take the property because the violations consume a considerable amount of taxpayer resources and the city Codes Department has received numerous complaints from neighbors about the property.

"If not, I hope he cleans it up,” Lunn said. “Not only for his sake, but for the neighborhood’s sake. It's an eyesore in the city, and we just want to get the property cleaned up."

LAST STAND

The city begins foreclosure actions on hundreds of properties annually. 

Property owners were given 90 days to pay their 2017 back taxes ahead of this year’s July 5 deadline.

A total of 544 properties owed taxes for that year at the time the list was generated last December. 

Of those, the city foreclosed on 92 of them, and Hooks is among the 28 property-owners who have filed a formal response. 

Does he recognize the irony of his current situation?

“Of course,” Hooks said ruefully. “Eviction man gets evicted — I’d be the joke of the city.”

The self-proclaimed squad leader said he doesn’t have an exact plan, but will work to convince city officials to grant him a reprieve.

“I need to prove to the court why the city should grant me relief,” he said. “It will be Custer's Last Stand — but he lost.”

Hooks has set up a GoFundMe page to aid with donations.

“I’m hoping people will come together and helpful,” he said.

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