Man Rents Excavator, Bulldozes Home Without Telling Wife: “She's Aware of it Now; We're Good”

A New York man who rented a bulldozer from a local construction company and demolished the house that he lived in with his wife, whose name is on the deed and who did not know about the razing, told NBC 4 New York he did it because it was dilapidated and needed to come down.

The foundation of his Middletown home was crumbling from years of disrepair, 48-year-old James Rhein said Tuesday afternoon, and he tried to get a permit to demolish it himself Monday but couldn't because the office he needed to visit was closed due to the federal holiday.

"So I took it down, that's it," said Rhein, who was arrested Monday in the process of demolishing his home. Police said he was knocking the single-family house to the ground with an excavator and tossing the debris in Dumpsters when they arrived; they said he didn't try to run and was cooperative.

Rhein's wife is the legal owner of the home. She was not there when it was razed and police said she had no idea it was happening. Rhein said he tried to call her before beginning the demolition but she didn't pick up her phone; all items left in the home when it was destroyed were replaceable, he said.

Neighbor Darryl Horn said Rhein's wife drove up to find her home reduced to rubble.

"She was very upset. She was in the middle of the road screaming, 'her house, what happened to her house?'" said Horn. 

Rhein admitted to NBC 4 New York his wife was distraught initially.

"But now she's over it," Rhein said. "We're good. I'm a good husband, what can I tell you?"

He apparently notified utilities companies in advance of the demolition because electric, water and gas lines to the house were shut off. No one was injured. Rhein says he doesn't believe he did anything wrong and that police overreacted.

NBC 4 New York made multiple attempts to contact Rhein's wife Tuesday night but was unable to reach her. 

Rhein was charged with criminal mischief and released on $300 bail. He has one previous arrest in 2013 regarding a case of harassment; his wife was not involved.

He's due back in Middletown City Court on Jan. 30. Information on an attorney for Rhein wasn't immediately available.  

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