Springfield Gardens residents Mary Moore, 80, and her husband Tony McFadden, 76, should be enjoying their retirement on their picturesque block with their seven grandchildren — but they say something has been causing unnecessary stress in their lives and they have been helpless to stop it.
For the last 15 years, an abandoned house next to their own has been a blight on the community. It has been the site of illegal dumping, a haven for vermin, and for a time, a place where neighborhood teenagers would go to have sex, Moore said. Complaints about the latter prompted the city to seal all the doors and windows at 141-44 184 St. with cement about eight years ago.
Since then, Moore said she has called the city on multiple occasions in an attempt to get them to clean up the property, but to no avail. In the meantime, she and her neighbors have taken it upon themselves to clean it periodically or pay someone else to do it.
When the weeds became so overgrown that they spilled over onto the sidewalk, which Moore said happens often, and was forcing passersby to walk in the street, the elderly couple gave a young man from the area $35 to chop them down. Moore estimates she has spent about $700 over the last 15 years to keep the land from deteriorating further.
“It makes me sick to look at it,” Moore said. “For years, we have been fighting and fighting and fighting to get this cleaned up because we are afraid that some child may wander in there and get lost or something.”
It’s difficult to make one’s way more than 10 feet onto the front lawn of the property because of the dense brush, but a car bumper and other trash were clearly visible.
From the window of Moore’s bathroom, one can see into the backyard of the abandoned house and there was a pile of tires and an old mattress among other debris.
“At first we were picking up stuff and giving it to the garbagemen, but then we said, no, that’s not our job,” Moore said. “This is somebody’s property. We have no business on the property.”
Moore and her neighbor, Jean Harris, who has lived on the block since 1974, have seen a number of critters living in the trash such as snakes, rats, opossums and raccoons as well as an array of insects.
“We have been trying to throw poison to keep the rats away and stuff, but we are tired,” Moore said.
In September, Moore reached out to City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) for assistance and the lawmaker contacted the city Department of Health to report the unsanitary conditions. On Sept. 9, a DOH worker inspected the property and “observed overgrown weeds and garbage.” On Nov. 14, the inspector returned and issued a violation “due to harborage conditions that encourage the nesting of rats.”
Sanders’ chief of staff, Donovan Richards, said the DOH usually gives property owners three chances to clean up their land, issuing summonses before taking legal action.
“There are no words to describe what we’re seeing,” Richards said as he looked at the house. “We are calling on the Health Department to take immediate action. We cannot wait any longer.”
The unkempt dwelling is a tax lien property held in trust by BNY Mellon, according to Kevin Heine, a spokesman for the company. The servicer is MTAG Services, Heine said. They could not be reached for comment by press time.
“The property is the responsibility of the owner of record, or in this case, the estate of the owner, who is deceased, until such time as foreclosure proceedings are completed or the property is sold,” said Owen Stone, a spokesman for the city Department of Finance.
Richards said foreclosed properties and those owned by absentee landlords falling into disrepair have become more commonplace in the district in recent years. “Senior citizens should not have to deal with this,” Richards said. “We are going to make sure this nightmare ends.”