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Sun., Oct. 4
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Tenants of city-foreclosed property did not know they were getting evicted


OGDENSBURG — Robin Reynolds didn’t know she was being evicted from her city-owned apartment until she read about it in the newspaper.

Mrs. Reynolds lives in one of three apartments at 801 Washington St., a property on which the city of Ogdensburg recently foreclosed for its owner’s failure to pay taxes. The city sent an eviction notice to the former owner of the building, but tenants were never notified they would have to leave.

“I saw in the paper a few months ago that it was on the list of tax foreclosures, so I called my landlord, and he said he knew nothing about it,” Mrs. Reynolds said Thursday. “He has kept taking my rent. He just cashed my rent check from Aug. 1.”

The owner of the property, Charles Russo, lives in Shreveport, La. City Comptroller and acting City Manager Philip A. Cosmo said city officials sent the notice to vacate the property to Mr. Russo, and did not realize the property was an apartment building.

“Some of the folks obviously hadn’t been told,” Mr. Cosmo said. “We’re getting the names of the individual tenants.”

Mr. Russo said Wednesday that he never received notice from the city that it had foreclosed on the property.

“I called my bank three months ago because I hadn’t made a payment in a while, and they said they had written the loan off,” Mr. Russo said. “The first I heard of the city taking it was this morning.”

He said he knew that the city probably would foreclose at some point because he hadn’t paid taxes in a couple of years, and had told at least one of his tenants that could happen.

“I told them I was sure they would eventually take it, but I never got a letter or anything. I was never served any legal documents,” he said. “I had moved a couple of times, so it could be they sent it to the wrong address.”

City attorney Andrew W. Silver could not be reached Thursday for comment on where the notice was sent.

Mrs. Reynolds and the occupants of the other apartments will be served with paperwork Tuesday telling them they have 30 days to leave, Mr. Cosmo said. If the tenants do not leave within 30 days, the city then may begin eviction proceedings in court; that would extend the process for up to another month.

For neighbor Lisa M. Campbell, a mother of children ages 6, 4 and 2, the news was hard to swallow. She said she did not know she was going to have to move out until she heard it from Mrs. Reynolds.

“I have three kids,” Ms. Campbell said. “I live paycheck to paycheck. I don’t have the money to find someplace else to live. We knew nothing about this.”

City Councilor Jennifer Stevenson said that if Mr. Russo never notified the city that his address had changed, the notice to vacate would have been sent to the last address on record. She said the property record is clear about the building having multiple apartments, but the property owner still would have been notified before the tenants were.

“That happens also with (bank) foreclosed homes,” she said. “People move so many times that they don’t always notify of their address change, so they can’t be notified. That’s why we put it in the newspaper. If you don’t update your address, you can’t expect to be served.”

Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley said he hates that the city has to evict anyone, but the city cannot be a landlord.

“I don’t believe anybody knew this was an apartment house, and once Phil found out he notified the city attorney,” Mr. Morley said. “These people are caught between a rock and a hard place because their landlord didn’t tell them anything. It’s awful for them and awful for us.”

He said the issue is something City Council should discuss to find out if policy changes are in order.

“If people are going to be absentee landlords, there should be somebody in the immediate area the city can contact at times like these so we can get some quicker action,” Councilor Wayne L. Ashley said.

“I really think that if landlords are going to do business in Ogdensburg and live more than an hour away, they should have a contact in the city to manage the apartments for them and take care of problems as they arise,” he said.

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