World War II Vet, 91, Sues Neighbor for Trapping Him in Apartment

By Meredith Hoffman on September 20, 2012 6:59am 

BUSHWICK — A 91-year-old World War II veteran claims his next-door neighbor's construction on the front steps they share has trapped him in his apartment.

Robert Foster and his daughter, Barbara Foster, 51, are suing their Putnam Avenue neighbor for installing a railing that split the stoop, causing the Fosters' adjacent steps to shrink to a mere 22 inches wide, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.

The space is so narrow, Robert Foster can't use his walker to get down the steps.

"They cut our stairs in half, and now my father can't freely come outside. He's depressed," Barbara Foster said outside their apartment Wednesday. 

Since 1991 — when both neighbors bought their homes from the NYC Partnership Housing and Development Fund, which had owned both apartments — both parties have shared a four-foot wide communal stairway, according to court papers from the lawsuit filed Sept. 5 in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Foster said kids from both families would play there and neighborhood children would also come enjoy the shared space.

But this summer the Fosters' neighbor, Patsy Brown, built a fence between the two sides that left the Fosters' stairway narrower than the city's building code minimum size of 48 inches— even though both parties bought their property with the understanding they would share the stairway, court papers alleged.

"It's illegal what they did — this is community property," claimed Barbara Foster, noting that her father would occasionally strain down the stairs with a cane to combat the trapping narrow stairwell.

Robert Foster — who has lived in his Bushwick apartment the last 23 years and said he served in the U.S. Army in Italy and France during World War II — lamented that he barely gets outside now, since the June construction.

"It is very much harder. I can never get it down the steps," he said of his walker.

And even for his daughter, who relies on a cane, just doing errands has become a nearly impossible feat. 

"I can't carry the groceries," she said. "I don't know why she didn't extend the stairs the other way."

Now, according to court documents, the Fosters are demanding that Brown either readjust the stairway or build a wider staircase on the Fosters' property.

But Brown maintained that the work was perfectly legal.

"I didn't do anything wrong," she said. "I have a permit from the city...I have my lawyer and they have theirs. Good luck to them."

The lawyer for the Fosters did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and Brown did not identify her lawyer.

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