Doina Almazon looked through a window on the second floor of her Hicksville home at the cut grass of the backyard where her two boys grew up playing.
The Town of Oyster Bay bulldozers could demolish the home on Grape Lane she’s been fighting to save in state and federal court as soon as Monday.
“It's very heartbreaking because for nine years I've been struggling to save it,” said Almazon, 58, who has been living elsewhere since the house was damaged by burst pipes initially caused by Superstorm Sandy. “Nobody should have to go through this.”
The flooding caused sufficient damage that her insurance company said the house had to be gutted, she said. Her attempts to rebuild have been bogged down in litigation over fights with her insurance company, a contractor, the bank and a company hired to safeguard the property.
Almazon failed to comply with an order from a state judge telling her to bring the house up to town code by May. Oyster Bay now says it can demolish the house as a nuisance and on Saturday a town contractor began preparation work on the property, removing a fuel tank and tearing down a tree in the front yard.
Town spokesman Brian Nevin declined to comment Sunday on when the demolition would take place.
In 2017 Oyster Bay adopted a new code to allow it to demolish homes deemed to be nuisances after obtaining a court order.
Last month Almazon filed a federal lawsuit against Oyster Bay and JPMorgan Chase, which holds the title to the home, in Central Islip’s Eastern District, alleging that her right to due process had been violated. In a conference with U.S. District Judge Gary Brown, Robert Pollock, an attorney for JPMorgan Chase from the New Jersey office of Parker Ibrahim & Berg LLP, told the court that the bank has distributed most of the insurance proceeds it was holding to Almazon.
“The only money that Chase has left that they have not distributed to Ms. Almazon is $39,787.71,” Pollock said, according to a transcript. Pollock told the judge that money wouldn’t be released until 90% of the repairs have been completed.
Brown dismissed the case, saying he had no jurisdiction.
Almazon, who is representing herself in various lawsuits, has appealed and is also resisting Chase's effort to foreclose on the property. She said that she is still counting on favorable outcomes in ongoing litigation to provide enough money to finish the repairs.
Inside the house Almazon showed some of the more than $80,000 in repairs she said have been done since her house was damaged: New wood studs, new electrical wiring, a new boiler, new bathtub, new plumbing, a ceiling fan, new wood ceiling beams, a partially installed ventilation system and a new staircase.
“It's 70% done,” she said. “We just need 30% [more] and I could move in.”
An April engineers report commissioned by Almazon concluded the property was structurally sound and the town’s outside attorney told a federal judge last month the town wasn’t arguing that it was structurally unsound, rather it was vacant, abandoned and dangerous.
“My house is not abandoned,” Almazon said, noting that she has continued to pay for the grass to be mowed.
In an interview with Newsday, Almazon called on the town to help her, addressing Supervisor Joseph Saladino.
“Please town of Oyster Bay, Mr. Saladino … I’m asking you to please not demolish my house because there's no reason to demolish it,” Almazon said. “Definitely give me more time because they shouldn't demolish a structurally sound house.”
Town officials on Sunday didn’t offer to delay.
“While we feel terrible for anyone in this situation, the fact remains that a court ordered the demolition of this house as it is unsafe and unfit for human occupancy,” Nevin wrote in an email Sunday. “Unfortunately, the house deteriorated and dozens of neighborhood complaints went unresolved for 9 years.”
The judge’s order gave the town the right to demolish the house, but did not mandate demolition.
Almazon, a retired New York Court system employee, said she has wanted to keep the house because of her children, now 23 and 33. “He said, 'mom, I want to have a house',” she said of one of her sons. “So I said we'll have a house and never in my wildest dreams would I think that I would be displaced nine years.”