Demolition begins on burned and blighted home in Ronkonkoma

An abandoned house that had been damaged by fire was torn down in Ronkonkoma on Tuesday to the delight of neighbors and officials who had deemed it an unsafe eyesore. Videojournalist: Ed Betz (Oct. 30, 2013)

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The Town of Islip began demolishing a home on Johnson Avenue in Ronkonkoma Wednesday that officials and neighbors said was subject to blight and vandals after a fatal 2011 fire.

The owner of the beige two-story home, Anthony Caldara Sr. of Hauppauge, blamed its condition on Utica National Insurance, which he said refused to pay out his homeowner's policy because the company alleged he had illegally rented it out as a multifamily home.

"It's an injustice," Caldara said as he stood near the house while a bulldozer ripped down the garage door. He said he had insured it as a two-family home, and the insurance company is cheating him.

Katie Lehmann, property claims supervisor for the Utica-based insurer, declined to comment.

Caldara consented to the demolition after town officials threatened to seek a court order. The three-day demolition is expected to cost about $29,000, which town officials plan to recoup through a special tax assessment on Caldara.

Caldara, who bought the home in 1977, said, "It's always been a two-family house," though he acknowledged that the certificate of occupancy from the town listed it as a single-family dwelling.

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Town officials said the house, across the street from Slocum Elementary School, was unsafe and dangerous to the community.

"This is a burned-out, blighted structure," said Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt as she watched the demolition. "It's just not fair to the community, and we simply can't have it anymore."

The fire in February 2011 killed a 31-year-old tenant. Seven other residents escaped.

The town had issued Caldara a violation in 2006 for improper change of use because the house was being used as a multifamily rental. Caldara said he didn't know about the violation and accused town officials of ignoring other local homes with rental apartments.

"Absolutely, positively I'm being used as an example," he said, vowing to fight the insurance company. "It should not have come to this."

Town Councilman Steve Flotteron, also at the demolition, said Caldara did not have rental permits to rent out a second apartment.

Neighbor Dawn Dean said she was relieved the house was coming down. "It was constantly smelly, and debris would come over," she said. "I'm also glad it's being taken down right at Halloween, because every year kids come and break into the house."

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