By Tyler Murphy
NEW SCOTLAND — The town board is preparing legal action to demolish three vacant homes, claiming they have been neglected by property owners and have become a public health and safety hazard.
One property is owned by a corporation, the second was abandoned when the owner died, and the third is owned by an elderly woman battling health problems. Ann Marie Charron was previously fined close to $18,000 for the junk on her land but refused the town’s offer to clean it up. She says she may now reconsider but it may be too late.
It is the first time the town has attempted to use the unsafe building law, local law 8, passed in 2010, said New Scotland Building Inspector Jeffry Pine.
“About a year or more ago, the town passed the unsafe building law, which does have a provision of last resort for the town to go in and take a building down,” he said, explaining the legal and demolition costs would be
applied to the owner’s property tax bill.
Unpaid tax bills could eventually lead to the county foreclosing on the property and selling it at auction.
Before reaching that point, though, the law includes provisions to try to repair or stabilize the structure.
Before the new law was passed, delinquent property owners in the town were primarily subject to penalties under the town’s junk law, said Pine. However, the stipulations in the junk law do not allow the town to take any physical action, only assess court-ordered fines.
Under the junk law, officials can take an owner to court with the end result being a lien placed against the property, meaning the town could deduct any outstanding fines when the property is eventually sold. In the meantime, though, the junk laws do not force owners, or authorize the town, to clean up the delinquent property.
“You can only go so far with fines,” said Pine.
Pine said the unsafe-building law was intentionally designed “with more teeth” to give New Scotland more power in addressing the worst cases of property neglect.
The law’s purpose states it is to be used in instances where a building poses a threat to life and property. Examples in the law include buildings that have been damaged “by fire, the elements, age or general deterioration.”
The law says unsecured buildings with broken doors and windows can encourage trespassing by children, vagrants and transients to congregate, and rodent infestations to develop.
On Nov. 14, Pine submitted three unsafe building reports to the town and, in each case, he said demolition was likely the most cost effective way of correcting the problems. Each report contains a structural analysis with Pine noting each property’s specific deficiencies. In all the properties he presented to the board, Pine recorded the buildings each had partially compromised roofs, damaged foundations, collapsed walls, and windows and doors that were not secured, in addition to other damage.
A limited liability corporation owns one property, located at 14 Railroad Ave. Pine said that contractors had hoped to repair the 72-year-old, single-family home but had abandoned their efforts after costs became prohibitive.
Another house at 28 Whitbeck Lane had been abandoned since its previous owner had died more than 20 years ago, said Pine.
The third building, at 154 Clipp Road, owned by resident Ann Marie Charron, has not been lived in for several years.
The site also has no functioning sewer or water utilities. While Pine said it would be cost prohibitive to repair any of the three properties yet still possible, he uniquely noted on the report that 50 percent of the Clipp Road property could not be stabilized with any amount of repairs.
Speaking to The Enterprise this month, Charron admitted the property need to be cleaned but said the issue had been exaggerated by “more well-off, city neighbors,” who were worried about their own property values.
She also said she had attempted to hire workers to clean up the site on at least two prior occasions, though the work was never finished.
She reported living on a fixed income with her husband. She said she receives only $488 a month from disability payment. The couple currently lives in an apartment in Feura Bush. Charron said she is trying to start her own crafts business to supplement her income by making holiday cards and scarves.
Though her property taxes are currently paid, Charron said there was no way she could afford the added cost of a demolition.
Charron said she was three-quarters Native American and her family bought the land in 1942. Charron said she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and emphysema among other ailments. She said she had been plagued with a series of medical illnesses in recent years, including lung cancer, that had made dealing with the property problems difficult.
Charron was a defendant in a case earlier this year when the town took her to court for violating the local junk law. Officials and neighbors have complained about a number of abandoned vehicles and other visible debris surrounding the vacant building.
Following a trial in May, town Judge David Wukitsch fined Charron for $17,850, which still leined against the property.
Charron said the town had attempted to take action against her over the property about three years earlier but stopped after she became seriously ill.
Pine confirmed that the town had previously begun the process of taking Charron to court in violation of the junk laws, but halted the process after she reported coping with a potentially life-threatening illness. However, the town resumed the process last year, leading to Charron being fined in May.
Town’s offer of help denied
New Scotland Supervisor Thomas Dolin said the town had offered to clean up Charron’s property for free before taking action on the junk law.
Even after Charron was found in violation of the law in May, Dolin said, the fine had been suspended for 30 days to offer Charron one a last chance for the town to clean the property. She did not respond, he said.
When asked why she had not taken the town up on its offer, Charron replied, “They have no right to be there.”
She added that she did not want officials arbitrarily throwing away all the material located on the property, saying some of it had sentimental value or monetary worth.
“This is a case of a nuisance junkyard. The town had approached the owners and they didn’t have the resources to get the job done. So the town volunteered to come in and clean up but they wouldn’t let us on the property,” said Dolin.
Now facing the new violations in the safe-building law, Charron said she might reconsider the town’s offer if it meant not risking the loss of the property.
“I’d have to think it about it but I’m not sure I’d have a choice,” she said.
“I think it’s exploitive how they can take your property away like this. It’s not my fault I’m not rich like the big-shot neighbors,” she said.
Dolin said the town had continued to get complaints about the property from residents living on the road.
At an October board meeting, neighbor John Dearstyne told the board residents along the road had been dealing with issues relating to the property since at least 1996.
At the time, Charron lived on the property with her husband. Unable to live in the Clipp Road house, due to needed repairs for the building, the couple lived in a trailer on the property through a special permit with the town.
At the time, Charron told the board the couple was forced to burn human waste at the location because they lacked access to septic utilities and officials required them to have an outhouse. The town also took the couple to court after the permit expired, forcing them to remove the trailer. The town also ordered the couple to clean up the property.
“The town said it was unsafe in 1996 and it hasn’t change,” said Dearstyne.
The couple was unable to repair the building enough to live in it and moved to another home. Though the trailer was removed and some debris cleaned up, Dearsyne said a large amount of it still remains.
Dearstyne added, “We are way past the point of neighbors helping neighbors here. You’re going to need Dumpsters and trucks to remove it all.”