In West Hempstead, New York, Newsday
- When Philip Williams returned in August to his home in West Hempstead -- after knee surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation in Florida -- his house and all his possessions were gone.
Unbeknownst to him, Williams said, Town of Hempstead officials had ordered the home where he had lived since he was 6 months old demolished, after neighbors complained about its unkempt condition.
Williams, 69, represented by East Meadow attorney Bradley Siegel, has filed a notice of claim against the town, alleging officials negligently rushed to rid the neighborhood of a home that had stood there since the late 1920s.
Siegel says he is still assessing the punitive damages he will be seeking.
"You don't expect to leave and get surgery and come back to find everything gone," Williams said. "I'm outraged," he said, standing on his lot . "They shouldn't be able to do that. This was preventable. It's unjust and a tremendous disservice to me."
Town officials say they followed protocol, repeatedly writing to Williams about problems with the two-story home at 27 Garden City Blvd., which was demolished on May 12. "Hempstead Town followed all proper procedures with regard to property owner notification relating to . . . proceedings," Susan Trenkle-Pokalsky, a town spokeswoman said via email. "The structure posed a danger to the public and was taken down in accordance with the law."
Williams, a retired computer salesman, said he was not having his mail forwarded and never received the notices. He said complications from his knee replacement kept him in Florida longer than expected. He said he went to Florida in December, but two of the notices are dated in October and November 2014.
He said the town's attempt to reach him was "not adequate" and that "they need to go the extra step if they are going to tear someone's house down." He believes the town was trying to be tough on abandoned and foreclosed houses, a growing scourge on Long Island, but he does not believe his house fit the category.
Neighbors such as Kathleen Keicher, who lives across the street but did not file a complaint with the town, said the house looked "rundown" and "unkempt." There were holes in the ground and falling siding, she said, describing the house as a "shanty."
Williams raised his six children in the home and says possessions, such as his late wife's wedding ring, woodcarvings he had designed, and trees that his parents planted in the 1940s, were all gone. "I'm homeless," he said. "I live with a friend, but I don't have a place to call my own at this point."