A Medford couple has filed a federal lawsuit against the Town of Brookhaven for boarding up a Farmingville house they own that town officials said appeared to be unoccupied.
Celia and Ricardo Durao said in court papers the Granny Road house was temporarily vacant last year when Celia’s father, who lived in the house, traveled to Portugal. Celia Durao said when she went to the house last October, she found it had been boarded up.
The lawsuit was filed Feb. 16 in federal District Court in Central Islip. The Duraos, who are seeking unspecified monetary damages from the town, say the town’s decision to board up the house was unconstitutional.
“They concocted a law that they can’t follow,” Celia Durao, who co-owns Durao Concrete with her husband, said in an interview. “If they’re vacant, they just do this, but people live in these houses.”
Brookhaven officials have estimated the town may have hundreds of vacant houses, many of them so-called “zombie houses” because they are abandoned and in foreclosure.
Vacant houses pose a threat to their communities because they attract squatters, drug users and vermin, town officials have said. A Newsday/News 12 Long Island investigation in 2015 found Long Island municipalities spent at least $3.2 million in 2014 to clean up such properties.
Deputy Town Attorney David Moran said the Duraos’ house has been in foreclosure since 2014. He said the house was boarded up in October because it was empty and the front door was ajar, making it possible for thieves and vandals to enter. Town officials had found “multiple problems” at the house since 2005, he said.
“The house has been in a state of mild disrepair for perpetuity,” Moran said.
He said the town had imposed fees totaling $2,281.41 against the Duraos to cover the costs of boarding up the house and sending a certified mailing to the family. He said the Duraos may remove the boards from the house at any time.
Celia Durao said her father lives with her and her husband at their Medford home and won’t move back to his house “because they boarded it up.” She said it may be too costly to remove the boards.
“I’m not sure ... if I can take it down,” she said, referring to the boards. “I want to find out from my attorney whether I am allowed to do that. I’m not sure.”
She referred other questions to her lawyer, Richard I. Scheyer of Nesconset. He did not return a call for comment.
Moran said Celia Durao previously had cared for the house, and the structure was not in violation of town building codes.
“I don’t see any other problems . . . that would warrant a demolition or anything like that,” Moran said. “It wouldn’t surprise me that she takes care of the house the way she always has.”