Homes left to rot, neighbors left with mess

By Matt Porter

June 3, 2013 Updated Jun 3, 2013 at 7:29 PM EDT

Conklin, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Sara Leatso's worst neighbor is none at all.

She lives next to a property abandoned after waters receded in the 2011 flood.

The house at 132 Stillwater Road sits empty after its tenants abandoned the home, leaving all the windows open.

Since then, no one has entered the home to clean it up. Mud remains caked thick enough on the back deck to support a flower bed, and mold inside can be seen growing on windows.

Leatso and others say breezy days waft a foul smell from the home onto their property.

"If you leave a piece of bread out too long, it has that mold smell," Leatso said. "It's just that disgusting, burns-your-eyes, burns-your-nose stench."

Kenneth LaVare suffers from multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and asthma, and said the deteriorating home next door aggravates his asthma.

"I don't even open the windows on my home," LaVare said, "The only window that's open is the one with my air conditioner in it."

LaVare has a buy out property next door which he mows himself on his tractor mower, he said he's never seen the town come by.

Leatso said animals come and go through open windows in the abandoned home's yard.

The brush around the home towers over her 2-year-old son.

The town is not required to mow the lawns of vacant homes, neither are neighbors.

But some do.

"They choose to be caretakers," said Conklin code enforcement officer Bob Jones.

Jones said he has too many cases to manage to keep track of every vacant home.

"I'm one guy," he said, "We have lots of properties we're looking at."

He said the town does its best to go after absentee homeowners.

However, despite multiple calls from neighbors, the town only looked into the home at 132 Stillwater Road after being contacted by Action News.

When asked if he had examples of other cases where the town had pushed absentee owners, he said, "Is there any reason you'd want to see that?"

Jones said he had examples of other cases, but he said it would take more than a day to get that paperwork together.

Jones said he has no legal right to enter the home without permission. But his powers as code enforcement officer allow him to judge if a home is unsafe.

The house on Stillwater Road meet several criteria set by the town of Conklin as an unsafe property, including open windows accessible to children or vagrants, and neighbors say it's likely home to a number of animals.

The home at 132 Stillwater is in the first stage of foreclosure, owing $12,895 in back taxes since 2009.

The owners Wiesa Swiderski and Miroslaw Kradjewski live in South Amboy, N.J.

If the home goes into foreclosure, it would be taken over by Broome County.

When asked if he was waiting for a foreclosure, which would make the property the county's problem, Jones said "Absolutely."

That process could take another year.

Leatso, who invested $70,000 to raise her home above the floodplain, says she's waited long enough.

"We've invested a lot of our money into staying in the town," she said, "And for the town to say you're not our No. 1 priority, you can stare at this every day. It just breaks your heart."