Harlem Neighbors Claim Foreclosed Building Left to Rot

Residents are angry at an eyesore controlled by a bank

By Ida Siegal and Tom Burke
|  Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011  |  Updated 4:15 PM EDT
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A Harlem block known for its beautiful historic brownstones is changed when the economy turned, and a burnt out brownstone went into foreclosure. Ida Siegal reports.

NBC New York

A Harlem block known for its beautiful historic brownstones is changed when the economy turned, and a burnt out brownstone went into foreclosure. Ida Siegal reports.

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Neighbors who live on one Harlem block are growing angrier each day they are forced to look at a burned out, dilapidated building on their block.

Residents are upset, they say, because Bank of America took over the premises at 465 W. 147th St. in foreclosure proceedings started in March 2008, and despite promises to maintain the property, it has been left to rot.

“I’ve been here since 2000 and in the last two or three years it’s just really spiraled downhill,” said Devaughn Johnson, who lives in the neighborhood.

The bank says it hasn't had the legal ability to take full ownership of the property to fix the eyesore.

“The building remains in pre-foreclosure status,” said Rick Simon, spokesman for Bank of America. He explained that the foreclosure has not been completed and, until recently, the bank had no legal right to enter the property and remove squatters.

NBC New York has learned that police have been called to the address 19 times in the last year.

The police calls come after the city had two of the units in the building sealed off and listed as “public nuisance” in September 2010.

“The police said they wanted to clean the neighborhood, and we’re glad that they’re doing it, but can’t do it fast enough,” said Johnson. Other neighbors praised the 30th precinct commander who they say has stepped up patrols in the neighborhood.

Even so, drug dealers moved in, trash built up, and two fires have left the building a dangerous eyesore, neighbors told NBC New York. They say for more than year they’ve asked the Department of Housing Preservation & Development -- and Bank of America -- for help with little to no action.

Officials with HPD told NBC New York that they have issued a full vacate order on the building due to fire damage and no essential services. The order takes effect on Wednesday.

In the last few years, HPD has provided essential services and emergency repairs to the building to help out the few law-abiding tenants.

One neighbor told NBC New York that he’s notified Bank of America of the repeated problems and was told by a company representative that the bank guaranteed the property would be properly managed and maintained.

“We have been doing drive-by inspections,” said Simon, a bank spokesman.  Simon said that Bank of America had an inspector drive past the building as recently as Oct. 31.

Public records indicate the building was purchased by a woman named Linda Kelley in July 2007 with a Bank of America loan for $1,250,000.

On March 13, 2008, Bank of America initiated foreclosure proceedings on the building, according to court records, because Kelley had only made one payment on the mortgage.

According to HPD there are 119 open violations on the property totaling more than $108,000 -- with $13,193 coming in the last 12 months.

Also during the foreclosure fight, city inspectors with the Environmental Control Board have issued a series of citations against the property, including violations of fire code and sanitation regulations totaling $8,750, according to records obtained by NBC New York.

Only $334 has been paid.

On Nov. 16, two people were seriously hurt and several others injured when a fire broke out in the building around 3:30 a.m.

At the time, neighbors told NBC New York that residents were forced to jump from third-story windows to escape the flames.

It was the second fire in the building about a month. Both fires broke out around 3:30 a.m. and FDNY officials told NBC New York that both are being investigated as arson.

As a result of the fires, the building has been deemed “uninhabitable” and the residents removed, according to Simon. He explained that the bank can now legally enter the building and properly secure it, something Simon told NBC New York would happen no later than Wednesday.

HPD told NBC New York that an inspection on Nov. 21 confirmed the building was vacant and the agency plans to have a contractor on site to seal it up as soon as possible.

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