The remains of 18-20 Russell Street, which was severely damaged in a fire on April 21 cannot be demolished because of ongoing lawsuits, Saugerties village building inspector Eyal Saad told the village board at its regular meeting on September 17.
“We still are not clear if the court released the stay on it. We didn’t get an answer from the court yet,” Saad said. “On October 5, we’re set to go over there and do our own investigation.”
One resident of the three-apartment building, Tanya Conklin, died in the fire, and several others were injured. Saad said he cannot inspect a building without the permission of the owner unless it has a common area. 18-20 Russell Street has no such common area.
The village government’s plan for the building was raised at the opening of the meeting by a resident who would give his name only as Robert.
Another address that aroused some discussion was 44-46 Post Street, which Saad said had been condemned in the week prior to the meeting following the collapse of its roof.
Saad reported that there were still people living there when he inspected. “I just got word today that they are all relocated. I got some disturbing information from the owner,” Saad said. “He said he will go down with his ship. I said, ‘No, you’re not, not on my watch.’”
Murphy noted that the house has been in the family for generations. The occupant was a veteran who lived there his whole life. “It was hard, but I’m glad we got him relocated,” Murphy said.
Contractor John Mullen had said it would cost $100,000 just to fix the roof, Murphy told the village board.
“With all the rain we’ve had, it’s more than just the roof,” Saad said.
The village could demand that the violations be fixed within 30 days. If the owner fails to repair the violations, the village could seek a court injunction to allow it to tear the building down. The cost would be added to the tax bill for the property, and any future buyer would have to pay that cost, Murphy said.
Trustee Don Hackett suggested that multifamily buildings (three families or more) should be inspected on a regular basis. Current law allows only inspection of common areas, such as hallways and entries. “We should change the law to allow us to inspect fire alarms, smoke detectors, all the stuff that’s mandated by the state,” said Hackett. “All we have to do is change our law to have that done.”
Under present law, it is the responsibility of the owner if a building is not up to the legal standard. If the law were changed, the village could be held responsible for violations, Murphy noted.
“The law should be checked out,” Hackett said. “I can’t believe that you can have multifamily buildings in a village and not have the proper procedure to inspect those buildings once every three years, once every two years, whatever it is.”
Saad noted that buildings, including hallways, stairways and other common areas, are checked. Vacant apartments are also inspected. With larger building complexes such as The Mill, Saad said he didn’t have the manpower to inspect every unit on a regular basis.
The mayor was concerned about liability. “If we take over the responsibility to verify whether the building has a fire alarm or a smoke detector in apartments, [it is] we [who] are liable if something happens, and not the building owner.”
“You should look into these laws,” responded Hackett. “It’s going to help the village, help the public and avoid tragedy.”