Philip Williams, a 69-year-old resident of Hempstead in Nassau County, flew down to Florida last December to undergo knee surgery and recover in warmer climes. When he returned to Hempstead in August, Williams found that his home had been demolished, and all of his possessions had been confiscated.
"You don't expect to leave and get surgery and come back to find everything gone," Williams told CBS. "This was preventable. It’s unjust and a tremendous disservice to me."
Hempstead town officials say that they demolished Williams's home at 27 Garden City Boulevard in May because, according to Newsday, it qualified as a "dangerous building" in violation of city code. According to CBS, the town held a meeting about the home in February. The address was deemed a zombie house, or a property abandoned by an owner facing foreclosure.
Many neighbors had notified the city about the house's state of disrepair, according to the NY Post. The house was constructed in 1920 and, according to Newsday, had loose stucco on its facade.
City officials say that they attempted to contact Williams by mail starting in October, using eight different addresses linked to the property. An October notice mentioned the stucco issue, and a November notice confirmed that an architectural survey of the property was scheduled for the following month.
"Hempstead followed all proper procedures with regard to property owner notification relating to proceedings," town spokesperson Susan Trenkle-Pokalsky said in a statement. "The structure posed a danger to the public and was taken down in accordance with the law."
Williams says that he did not set up mail forwarding, and did not receive a single notification.
"As a general matter, the government cannot demolish a property without imminent danger," Fordham University regulatory law professor Aaron Saiger told Newsday. "I think a court would weigh the imminence of danger and the extent of the government's efforts to find an owner." However, "If it's structurally unsound, notification is a courtesy, not a requirement."
Williams has filed a lawsuit against the town, arguing that his home and possessions were destroyed without justification.
Anyway, that's why you never go to Florida!