News10NBC Investigates: Rochester wants to tear down a house even though all the taxes are paid

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The City of Rochester wants to tear down a home even though all the taxes are paid and the insurance is up to date. So the home’s property manager asked – how can the city do that?

The answer is, just look at it.

“We want to fix it up and make it presentable. We wanted to see what’s behind this old siding,” Tom Leone said outside the house on Jay Street. “So we are going to to tear it off and give it a complete paint job.”

Leone is the property manager for the house. He and the owner were told recently the house is on the city’s demolition list.

“The taxes are paid on this. The insurance is paid up on this,” says Leone. “There’s never been a lapsed time on either one. Now we get a notice from the city that they want to tear it down at $50,000 cost to us. Since when can the city just decide, well, they want to tear something down even though the taxes and insurance are paid up on it?”

The city says the owner defaulted on two demolition notices over the last two-and-a-half years and never made any improvements. There are 33 violations and more than a thousand in unpaid fines. The city’s policy it tear down houses like this.

“Pretty quickly it became apparent to both the mayor and I that housing quality was a huge problem,” city attorney Linda Kingsley said.

Brean: “We have a housing problem in Rochester – there’s not enough quality housing. And yet you’re tearing more of the housing down. How do you reconcile that?”
Kingsley, Rochester Corporation Counsel: “Right. And the way is the housing we’re tearing down is housing nobody should be living in.”
Brean: “Is it working?
Kingsley: “It makes a difference for the people who live on the street.”

Last month, Brean investigated the city’s aggressive stance on what it calls dangerous and abandoned homes. One of them belonged to Debra Washington. Brean was with her at her demolition hearing in January at City Hall and at her home on Hawley Street. Brean went back to see her Wednesday.

“We reattached the railing,” she said.

She repaired the front door and cleaned up some of the mess outside. And he’s promised the city $30,000 worth of repairs inside too.

Brean: “Do you think this is a place where people can live?”
Debra Washington: “Yes.”

“I’m not giving up. I’m not giving up. I bought this house when I was 19 years old. This was my birthday present to myself in 1975,” she said. “I sold it. The person was about to lose it. I came back. I got it and I’ve had it ever since in 1991. So, I’m not giving up.”

There are 77 homes on the city’s demolition list including the one on Jay Street. The city has torn down 480 homes in the last six years.