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Fire, Floods and Rats in Vacant Homes Plague Bed-Stuy Street, Neighbors Say

By Paul DeBenedetto | September 24, 2013 9:27am
 A fire at 857 Lafayette Ave. damaged surrounding homes in April.
A fire at 857 Lafayette Ave. damaged surrounding homes in April.
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Corey Scott spent the night of Sept. 5 pumping 2 feet of water out of his flooded basement.

Just hours earlier, Scott, 36, was chasing down a man he saw running with an armful of copper pipe removed from a nearby abandoned building at 880 Lafayette Ave., causing Scott's basement to flood alongside four other homes on Lafayette.

"This never happened here," Scott said of the incident. "Someone bought up the property, but they're not being responsible for safe keeping."

Scott is one of several Lafayette Avenue residents complaining about vacant properties between Marcus Garvey Boulevard and Lewis Avenue in Bed-Stuy.

In the past few months, houses have caught fire, flooded, attracted rodents, become homes for squatters and generally created an unsafe environment, neighbors and officials say. People in the surrounding homes say they feel like they're "under attack," said Lafayette Avenue Block Association President Paulette Moorehead.

"They basically create unsafe environments for the residents," Moorehead said of the buildings' owners. "We are being burned out, we're being flooded out, and we're being run out by rats."

The problems started earlier this year at 857 Lafayette Ave., Moorehead said.

That property was purchased on Feb. 28 by Oval Holdings Corp., according to the Office of the City Register. Less than two months later, a three-alarm fire tore through the then-abandoned building on Apr. 15, at 1:42 a.m., an FDNY spokesman said.

Three firefighters were injured fighting the blaze, which also damaged three surrounding buildings.

"I've never seen anything like it," recalled homeowner Yvette Welsh, 52, who lives across the street from the still-damaged properties. "It was like something out of the movies."

The fire is still being investigated, according to the FDNY spokesman, and the Department of Buildings served a vacate order on the house.

A phone number for Oval Holdings' listed owner, Eli Maor, was disconnected, and an accounting firm representing Oval Holdings declined comment.

Welsh herself is no stranger to damaged property.

On Aug. 14, water began pouring out of the basement of 874 Lafayette Ave. and Welsh's basement was flooded, according to the city, after another squatter tried to steal pipes. The flood destroyed Welsh's sheetrock and ruined personal belongings, she said.

"Insurance will only pay for so much," Welsh said. "You have valuables that are sentimental, and I've lost a lot of sentimental items in the basement."

Welsh said she tried contacting the owner at the time of the flood, Yolie Schwartz, who was not receptive to reimbursing her.

But Schwartz claims he received no such request.

"No one's talked to me about it, no one's asked anything," Schwartz said, adding: "If you're talking about a million dollars, the answer's no. If you're talking about a couple hundred, OK."

Schwartz, who confirmed that pipes were stolen from the building, has since sold the property for $175,000, according to the city register.

In addition to flooding and fires, neighbors have complained about rats and raccoons rummaging through garbage left in the backyards of 874 and 880 Lafayette Ave. Locks have also been broken off the building's doors, according to buildings department complaints.

Neighbors said they've called police, who have responded quickly and generally help solve immediate issues. But the beleaguered residents of Lafayette Avenue said major problems remain because building owners have not put the necessary work into the properties.

At 880 Lafayette Ave., the property that flooded out the Scotts' home after the pipes were stolen, Corey Scott said he had to add his own padlock because the owner, whom he knows only as Mike, wouldn't put one on himself.

Mike, who would not give his last name, said the problems at 880 Lafayette Ave. were common. 

"We did not leave the property abandoned," Mike said. "There were squatters stealing pipes, which happens with many properties."

For neighbors like Welsh, that answer isn't good enough.

"These people are buying these places and not securing them, and all kinds of vandalism is apparent," Welsh said. "My greatest fear's a fire, and if you haven't secured your building, who's to say who goes next?"