What court order? City tears down his house and business anyway

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–Timothy Jones thought he was safe–a judge signed an order to leave his fire-damaged house alone, but a wrecking crew tore down his home and business anyway.

“It is just amazing that they could just do what they want,” said the Buffalo businessman. “The City could just take something from you, and even though you have been paying on it and everything is up-to-date, they just do what they want.”

Jones’ building, a two-story house on Jefferson Avenue, was damaged by fire more than a year ago, and he blamed his insurance company’s long delays in processing his claim for the building’s deterioration. Investigators found no evidence the fire was of a suspicious nature.

By the time the claim was settled, city building inspectors had issued housing code violations against the property—a former restaurant on the first floor, Jones lived upstairs–and Buffalo firefighters used the house for drills, inflicting more damage.

Kevin Stocker, Jones’s lawyer, said his client could not afford to do much with the building, just a few blocks from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, until he got the insurance check.

“We had to wait for our insurance company to give us proceeds to make the repairs.  NFA [National Fire Adjustment Company in Getzville] was in the structure, they deemed it structurally sound, and just repairs had to be made.”

But when Jones found a demolition notice stuck to the front door, last week, Stocker asked city attorneys to hold off.

Stocker got an order from State Supreme Court Justice Henry Nowak, last Thursday, to delay the demolition until a hearing could be held the following week, but city officials went to Buffalo Housing Court the same day, although Stocker notified the city attorneys he could not make the city hearing.

Albert Steele, owner of Hanna Demolition, Inc., which demolished the house on Jefferson Avenue, said the Housing Court judge considered Stocker and “no show” and that is why the city’s Law Department gave him the green light to tear the house down.

Steele said Stocker, “advised the City in an email that he was not going to be able to make it, that he could possibly go do something later on in the day. It never transpired, and we got the go-ahead to take it down.”

In a brief hearing Friday, Justice Nowak dismissed Stocker’s application for a restraining order as moot, since Jones’s house was already demolished, but Nowak did say he personally inspected the house, and signed the order staying demolition the day before it was razed.

Stocker said Nowak made sure city officials knew about the order, “He went back to his office, signed the stay, and indicated that the parties knew that the stay was going to be signed.”

Jones and his lawyer filed a Notice of Claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, before the house was torn down, so Stocker now plans to file a lawsuit.

The spokesman for the City of Buffalo issued a brief statement Friday afternoon saying, “Justice Nowak correctly dismissed the application for an injunction. The City will not comment any further on pending litigation.”

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