April 16, 2013

Fire debris forces lawsuit


MALONE — Owners of an apartment house that burned down in October are being sued for leaving a debris pile that others are now using to dump their trash.

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And a California man who owns three dilapidated properties, including a defunct movie theater on Pearl Street, may face the same legal action.


Carmella and Joseph Wanser own 15 Jane St., which burned down near Malone Middle School on Oct. 22, 2012.

The insurance company paid a settlement in the mid $80,000 range for the loss, which included money for the cleanup, said Village Attorney Kevin Nichols.

But the Wansers did not respond to notices of violation from Oct. 23 of Dec. 6 last year under code-enforcement regulations for allegedly allowing trash to accumulate and not clearing out the fire debris.


Architect Tim McCarthy certified the site as unsafe under the vacant structure and land portion of the State Property Maintenance Code, which states all vacant buildings and land must be maintained in “a clean, safe, secure and sanitary condition … as not to cause a blighting problem or adversely affect the public health or safety.”

Village Code Enforcement Officer Jim Haley filed the violations, along with pictures of the debris, with Franklin County Supreme Court, alleging the Wansers failed to comply with an order to remedy the problem.

If corrections are not made, the judge can file a judgment against the owner’s personal assets rather than against the property. That means the Wansers could end up paying the labor and landfill-disposal costs if the village does the removal work, plus the attorney fees, architect’s fee and other remediation costs.

But the next step is to have the Village Board conduct a Chapter 57 hearing on May 6 to have the Wansers explain their position.


Their attorney, Peter Dumas, said the Wansers obtained a quote on March 26 for asbestos abatement and debris disposal from LVI Environmental Services Inc. of Massena for $38,000 plus sales tax. Joseph Wanser signed the contract on April 5.

But even though Haley was verbally told the work would start shortly, there is no start or end date on the paperwork.

The trash and fire debris “has been there since October, and people are throwing their household trash there,” he said, and children on their way to and from school are being exposed to the unsanitary site.

Repeated attempts to reach Dumas and Wanser for comment were not successful.


The owner of three other buildings may be in a similar situation, as the same proceedings may be brought against him, Haley said.

Carl Cameron of Hollywood Enterprises in Los Angeles is listed as the owner of 43 Duane St.; a former bookstore at 14 Harrison Place; and 61 Pearl St., which is the former Palace Theater.

He was sent violation notices, and Haley said he spoke with Cameron, who, the code officer said, “played dumb with me” about the condition of his buildings.

During a recent violent storm, Haley ordered the Village Department of Public Works to take down the theater’s marquee and store it for fear it would fall on passing pedestrians. He also has concerns about pieces of the building falling since water had been running freely from the roof through the entire structure since it was abandoned.

Trustees worry the building could collapse and damage the one next door, which houses the Geez Louise consignment shop, a business whose owners are paying taxes and keeping it in good repair.

The code officer plans to continue with the court proceedings against Cameron “and go after him to fix the buildings or demolish them.”

Email Denise A.