Piece by piece, an excavator tore through the uninhabited two-story house on Grape Lane in Hicksville on Thursday, ending a yearslong legal battle between the Town of Oyster Bay, bank and insurance officials and homeowner Doina Almazon.
"I can't believe they're doing this," Almazon, 58, a retired New York court system employee, said as the Komatsu excavator and a Bobcat reduced the home to rubble that was hauled away by a big yellow dump truck. "This is a home," she said.
Almazon said her home was damaged when pipes burst as a result of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The flooding led her insurance company to say the house needed to be gutted. Almazon said attempts to rebuild the home were bogged down in litigation and fights with her insurance company, a contractor, JPMorgan Chase bank and a company hired to safeguard the property.
Town officials, meanwhile, said Almazon failed to comply with a state judge's order to bring the home up to code by May. A 2017 code allowed Oyster Bay to demolish any home deemed a nuisance following a court order. The town began implementation of that order last weekend; a town contractor removed a fuel tank and tore down a tree in the front yard on Saturday. That, despite a lawsuit filed by Almazon last month in federal court in Central Islip alleging Oyster Bay and JPMorgan Chase, which holds title to the home, violated her due process.
In a conference with U.S. District Court Judge Gary Brown, an attorney for JPMorgan Chase told the court the bank had distributed most of the insurance proceeds to Almazon.
Brown later dismissed the case, saying the court had no jurisdiction.
In a statement Thursday, Town of Oyster Bay spokesman Brian Nevin said: “Due to a lack of maintenance and total disrespect for the neighbors over 9 years, a court granted demolition of this vacant, foreclosed and bank-owned property. While we sympathize, the facts remain that Ms. Almazon has not owned the home for many years as she failed to make over $500,000 in mortgage and tax payments.”
In May, JPMorgan Chase’s attorney, Robert Pollock, from the New Jersey office of Parker Ibrahim & Berg LLP told a federal judge that the mortgage had an original principal amount of $275,650 and a current unpaid principal balance of $242,881, according to a transcript.
The town’s lawsuit against Almazon in state court filed last year — and the judge’s Dec. 23, 2021, order requiring her to bring the property up to code by May — identified her as the “fee owner” of the property.
Just last week, Almazon showed Newsday more than $80,000 in repairs she said had been done since the home was damaged: new wood studs, new electrical wiring, a new boiler, a new bathtub, new plumbing, a ceiling fan, new wood ceiling beams, a new staircase and a partially installed ventilation system. She said engineers had concluded the home was structurally sound — and that the work was 70% completed.
But the Town of Oyster Bay told a judge it wasn't arguing whether or not the home was sound; it was arguing it was vacant, abandoned and dangerous.
And so Thursday morning the excavator, Bobcat and dump truck arrived at the property and the excavator operator began to knock it down, piece by piece.
One rip and the excavator arm with its huge metal-toothed bucket ripped a hole in the second-story roof, tearing apart beams and studs as it chopped through shingles and siding. Framing was torn apart, windows shattered, brick work, interior and exterior walls knocked down; a bathtub was torn out. Even the mailbox went, until all that was left was rubble.
And then, a near-vacant lot.
Almazon looked on, at one point moved to tears.
"This is what they're doing in America," she said. "That's sad. … I'm hurt. I believe in God and I believe in karma. … It's sad that we're living in America, in New York, especially in Nassau County … and it's sad what's going on — when they're demolishing a structurally sound house."
With Steve Langford, Howard Schnapp and Ted Phillips