Trailers loaded with asbestos waste remain at an Islip Terrace home nearly two years after a tenant reported them to authorities, but in a twist, it may be the tenant who is removed first.
Tenant Andrew Sirico in a series of Newsday stories over the past two years documented his claims that hundreds of bags of asbestos waste and other toxic material from an MTA construction site were left in the yard of a home he rented from Diana Honeycutt, whose family operated a waste cleanup business. Sirico said his pleas to state and local agencies to remove the waste went unanswered.
But in a 2021 ruling in a case filed by Honeycutt, Suffolk District Court Judge Cheryl M. Helfer found that Sirico “continues to obstruct any effort [Honeycutt] may make to remedy the very issue about which [Sirico] is complaining.”
Helfer also found Sirico “took it upon himself to move two large rolling trailers” in the yard containing the asbestos-tainted material. Then, Helfer found, Sirico notified Honeycutt about his concern about the trailers, and “demanded that she remove the trailers and the containers and refused to turn over the keys to the new locks that he had apparently put onto them.”
Honeycutt’s demand for the keys was “continually refused,” as Sirico “testified that he didn’t trust that she wouldn’t open the containers without a proper, licensed asbestos removal company” because of the “immediate danger to his family," the judge wrote.
Helfer ultimately awarded Honeycutt a judgement of possession and a warrant of eviction, ordering that Sirico pay $23,200 in unpaid back rent and $18,991 in legal costs. He’s expected to vacate the home in the coming weeks, said Sirico’s attorney, Karl Silverberg, who called claims that Sirico obstructed the cleanup “100% wrong.”
Silverberg noted that since November 2020, when he had objected to Honeycutt's cleanup company, Sirico “has been advised to not in any way shape or form interfere with anyone seeking to remove that asbestos." The lawyer asks "why ... hasn’t that asbestos been removed and why is the [Department of Environmental Conservation] letting asbestos sit on a residential piece of property?”
Silverberg said Sirico has been “trying to find a place” for his family and could be out in a “couple of weeks.” Sirico didn’t respond to calls seeking comment, but in an email acknowledged he was at "my wit's end."
A rent dispute, too
But Sirico’s problems may not end with the pending move.
In a letter to the judge dated March 25, Robert Dooley, Honeycutt’s attorney, wrote that Sirico had received $41,456 in Emergency Rental Assistance Program 2 funds on March 11 from Islip Town’s Community Development Agency, but said Sirico failed to turn over the payment to Honeycutt.
Islip Town on Tuesday acknowledged it had received a grand jury subpoena from the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office relating to an emergency rental assistance payment check paid to Sirico that his landlord’s lawyer said has not been used to pay back rent.
“We were issued with a valid grand jury subpoena from the Suffolk DA and what they've asked for has been turned over or will be,” said a town official.
Sirico's attorney declined to comment on the rent-payment matter. A spokeswoman for Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney declined to comment.
Dooley, the landlord's attorney, said last week that Honeycutt has a judgment saying she is "lawfully in possession" of the house, which is in default of mortgage payments because the rent hasn't been paid. He said he has sent a warrant of eviction to Sirico, and the Suffolk sheriff's office could act on it in the coming weeks.
Dooley also said Honeycutt has been in contact with a transporter for the asbestos waste and "as soon as [Sirico] is out, they go in." He said the material could be removed 30 days from the tenant's departure.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which was first alerted to the site in 2020, said in an email to Newsday last month that its investigation is “ongoing.”
“Under DEC oversight, the property owner continues to work to gain access to the property to conduct the necessary air sampling required for asbestos abatement,” the state agency wrote. “The tenant has previously prevented access to those deployed to sample and remove the asbestos” even after the “appropriate state approvals” had been given.
Court papers say that while Honeycutt admitted there was asbestos in the trailers that should be removed by a certified asbestos removal company, the judge found no evidence that storage on the premises “in its present condition and location, poses any threat or danger.”
Silverberg, Sirico's attorney, disagreed.
"With all due respect, the judge is not an asbestos expert," he said, noting the DEC "described it as a very dangerous situation."
"The question at trial was whether leaving it in the containers creates a danger, and the court seemed to believe just leaving it in the containers didn’t pose an immediate threat," Silverberg said. "That’s not to say it's safe to leave asbestos on a residential property."