Judge’s Order Ending 2 Years Of Argument
By LIBBY CUDMORE
ONEONTA – Two years after City Hall first declared the former Oneonta Hotel unsafe for occupancy, Judge John F. Lambert ordered the remaining tenants vacate the building by Thursday, Feb. 7.
“Ultimately, the judge recognized the imminent danger that exists in the building and took action,” said Mayor Gary Herzig after the Tuesday, Feb. 5, hearing before Judge Lambert in Cooperstown. “Our priority now is making sure the people in that building are provided with an appropriate, safe place to live.”
By Lambert’s order, any tenants who remain in the building after 4:30 p.m. on the 7th will be removed the following morning by sheriff’s deputies.
“I will have signed orders of eviction ready to hand down to the sheriff,” said the judge. “But hopefully, we will not have to use them.”
The ruling signaled the beginning of the end of the long-standing feud between the city and Melania and Nicolae Pervus, which came to a head last week when, while waiting for a court date following the Jan. 15 inspection, neighboring 189 Main St. had to twice be evacuated when carbon monoxide leaked from a hot water boiler in the basement of 195 Main.
“Our concern is not only for safety, but it’s become an issue for the neighbors,” said City Attorney David Merzig. “They caused carbon monoxide poisoning on an adjacent property.”
In the order, the city’s lawyer argued that the Pervus showed “gross negligence” and warned that they were “approaching criminal behavior.”
“The situation has now passed far beyond dirty rugs and stained ceiling tiles from a leaking roof,” Merzig wrote. “The respondents are now demonstrating gross negligence and, in the opinion of the city, actually approaching criminal behavior and must be stopped immediately.”
Pervus’ lawyer, Ryan Manley of Harris, Conway & Donovan, Albany, argued the city should have given them a more detailed list of required fixes back in October.
“The inspection is exhaustive,” he said. “But in hindsite, it is patently unfair to do this to my client. She should have been given every opportunity to get an exhaustive list from the city before this.”
Pervu submitted her own statement about the carbon monoxide incidents. However, Merzig argued that the statements were inadmissible, as they contained only hearsay.
In Manley’s own filings, he suggested that Merzig did not provide affidavits from anyone with direct knowledge of the incidents.
Merzig’s filings included a statement from Tysha Hoose, an employee at 189 Main St. who was hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning on Friday, Jan. 25 and Monday, Jan. 28.
“I’ve had heart palpitations, headaches, dizziness and confusion since last week, along with my co-workers,” Hoose wrote in a statement to the City.” I don’t know when you are going to actually condemn, for good, the 195 building. People’s health and lives are at stake.”
Merzig also attached a statement from Code Enforcement officer Stephen Yerly detailing the incident.
Manley asked for an adjournment on the city’s Order to Show Cause, in which the city asked that the residents be vacated and that the Pervus pay all court costs and any costs associated with vacating the premises, as well as “Such other and further relief as this Court may seem just and proper.”
Lambert granted the request.
“Adjournments are fine,” said Merzig. “We’re not concerned about nickels and dimes. We’re concerned about safety.”
Lambert’s order also allowed
the city to inspect all apartments
at 195 Main St. to make sure tenants had left the property by the deadline. The commercial tenants will be allowed to remain in the building,
as the city has inspected their
individual storefronts and found
them up to code.
The judge’s order to vacate seemed to come as a shock to owner Melania Pervu.
“I don’t understand,” she said in court.
“You have your lawyers here to explain it,” said Lambert.
However, at Pervu’s request, Lambert agreed to allow Manley to withdraw from representing the Oneonta couple.
Pervu declined to speak on the verdict. A new hearing on the remaining items in the order to show cause was scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 20 to give Pervu time to seek new council.
“We will wrap this case up then,” said Lambert.
Herzig did not know how many tenants remained in the building, but pledged that the city would work with the county’s Department of Social Services, Opportunities for Otsego and other agencies to place tenants in new housing.
“Our priority is to see that people in that building are provided with an appropriate, safe place to live before Thursday,” he said. “All we ask is that the owners work together with us to find everyone good housing.”