Hempstead Town officials said they made every attempt to reach a West Hempstead man whose house was demolished while he was out of town, including contacting banks and creditors.
But an attorney for Philip Williams, 69, who was staying in Florida while undergoing surgery when his home was razed, said the town should have further sought out the resident. He has filed a claim against the town arguing the family's 1920s home was unjustly destroyed and its contents trashed.
Aaron Saiger, a regulatory law and property professor at Fordham University, said Friday that local governments have free rein to demolish a building that threatens health and public safety, but they should be careful to not overstep their powers.
"As a general matter, the government cannot demolish a property without imminent danger," he said. "I think a court would weigh the imminence of danger and the extent of the government's efforts to find an owner. If it's structurally unsound, notification is a courtesy, not a requirement."
Hempstead Town officials demolished the property at 27 Garden City Blvd. in May because they said it violated town code and qualified as a "dangerous building." The town has torn down nine homes this year under the building code.
The town code allows officials to seek demolition for buildings with severe structural damage with more than 33 percent of foundational damage or more than half of the exterior walls missing. "In the event of the refusal or neglect of the person so notified to comply with the order . . . the Town Board shall provide for the securing and making safe or the demolition and removal of such building," the code states.
Town officials contacted eight different addresses associated with the property, including banks and creditors, according to letters starting Oct. 28, 2014. Another notice was served Nov. 24 that the town would have an architectural survey conducted in December. The home was slated for demolition following a Feb. 24 town board meeting.
Williams said he went to Florida in December to have knee surgery but didn't have his mail forwarded. He returned in August to find his two-story home and his belongings gone.
His East Meadow attorney, Bradley Siegel, provided a letter from the town, noting that Williams did not receive or acknowledge an October notice to remove loose stucco. He said the town should have done more to locate Williams. "Where there's a will, there's a way," Siegel said.