FULTON – Just a few weeks ago, Fulton DPW cleared garbage from the exterior of 102 W. 2nd St., including the roof, and it is already beginning to pile up again.
First Ward Councilor Tom Kenyon has been working on clearing out the house for almost two years, but keeps getting hit by roadblocks.
It has no running water and an extension cord to the neighboring rental unit is the only source of electricity. The copper piping has been stripped. The windows are all open to provide a breeze in the summer heat and some are painted over except for apparent lookout spots. Garbage is again on the roof and around the sides of the property.
Under New York State law, squatters are classified as tenants and receive temporary rights for 30 days after they have stayed there for three days, according to Kenyon. After that, the owner has to proceed with a legal eviction process.
“Assuming the prior owner allowed them to stay there at some point, that’s generally how they establish residency,” said Fulton Police Chief Orlo Green. “We still don’t have the authority to remove them from the property; it’s the homeowner’s right to have them evicted. It’s still private property. It’s not public property.”
Chief Green said there have been multiple arrests made for people on that property.
A neighbor, Tabitha Dingman, said just last week one of the people staying there, the father of a five-year-old girl, died on Friday after an ambulance brought him to the hospital Tuesday.
Before the man died, Dingman said someone from Child Protective Services came to check on the little girl and once he saw the conditions, would have taken her if she were there.
The property was attempted to be sold at auction in June by a bank from California that now owns it. Kenyon said they were asking for $71,500 minimum for it and used photos from several years ago, way before it looked like it does now. No one took it.
“There’s nothing in the house now,” Dingman said. “They’ve taken all the pipes out; it stinks; it’s disgusting in there.”
Dingman said another neighbor noticed it is back on the market and another auction is planned for half the cost.
Kenyon said the city is charging that bank by putting it on their taxes for the work DPW did to clear the garbage that is already forming again.
“We’re not going to keep doing this, and we won’t do this no more,” Kenyon said.
The first ward in Fulton is not the only one with this kind of issue. A second ward abandoned building on West First Street was once a business with rental space above, but now is boarded up.
While Kenyon has been dealing with the rental property on West Second Street, Second Ward Councilor Dave Ritchie has been trying to get something done with this property for almost four years. Ritchie also has faced challenges in dealing with the building.
Kenyon and Ritchie said the biggest obstacle they face when trying to get something done with these buildings is finding and serving the owners to take them to court.
He said the city has not been able to find the owner, who he said lives in Skaneateles. The city cannot do anything with it without the owner. Ritchie said when it goes to get knocked down, it should not be on the taxpayers to fund it.
“I think we gotta spend money to get people to go find them,” Ritchie said. “We’re not going to pay to knock it down, I’ll tell you that.”
The neighbor said she has seen two people squatting in the building and warned against going upstairs into the building in case of stepping on needles.
Kenyon called the mayor’s office to report the alleged squatters living in the building with no water and no electricity.
Chief Green did go to the building on West First Street Tuesday, July 23, and said there were currently no squatters there.
Chief Green said the second floor is basically inaccessible because the stairwell is collapsed, but was able to get up there to look around for signs of squatters, like wrappers, clothing or blankets. He said he found no evidence of people staying there.
He said a work order was put in Tuesday to secure the building again to make sure no one can get in.
“We just want our quality of life again in our neighborhoods,” Kenyon said. “[Ritchie] takes a bum rap on this building every day, and it’s not his fault.”