LANDMARK FOR CODE CRACKDOWN

BRIAN NEARING Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Friday, June 4, 2004

A 72-year-old retired state worker was hit Thursday with the largest fine ever under the city's 4-year-old law on vacant buildings.


Nadia Ferran of Eagle Street was fined $13,800 after being convicted in City Court of violations for buildings that Ferran owns at 54 Clinton Ave. and 228 and 288 Eagle St.


Ferran said the city had a vendetta against her and vowed to appeal. ``This decision is illegal,'' she said. Ferran said after she was late in paying the $600 fee to register her buildings, city officials took her to court and started nitpicking the buildings' condition. ``I paid the fee and the city accepted it, but I never got an order from the city showing me what I had to do to comply. Nothing in writing,'' Ferran said.


Assistant Corporation Counsel Jaime Lourida had asked Judge Cheryl Coleman to impose the maximum $1,000-a-day penalty on Ferran, which could have resulted in a total fine of more than $250,000.


Ferran's fine was the largest ever under the law, which was adopted in 2000 to force owners of vacant buildings to come up with plans to secure, demolish or rehabilitate the structures, Senior Building Inspector Daniel Sherman said.


Ferran said Sherman told her she had to paint plywood boards over the windows of her three buildings and demanded that he be allowed in to inspect them. ``Those buildings are secure,'' she said. ``I don't have to let the city in. That's extortion.''


The city also charged that a fence on one of the Eagle Street properties was decrepit and there was debris in the yard.


Ferran, a retired state Department of Health lab technician, has owned 54 Clinton Ave. since the mid-1990s. It was her parents' home, and she purchased it from her mother, who is in a nursing home. She bought the two Eagle Street properties at a county foreclosure auction, also in the mid-1990s, because she wanted to keep the properties from being purchased by slumlords who might rent to drug addicts.


Ferran said she forgot to register two of the buildings in 2003. She did so this March when she got a notice from the city.


``There are much worse properties in this city,'' she said. ``The city is singling me out.''


Coleman gave Ferran until July 1 to comply with the vacant building code or face a new prosecution from the city. She questioned why Ferran didn't do ``a few hours of work'' so the buildings complied with city law.


Ferran's case is part of a growing crackdown by the city on vacant building owners, said Valerie Scott, director of the Division of Buildings and Codes.


This year through May, Scott's department issued 94 citations for failing to register vacant buildings. That's up from 75 citations in 2003. This year, 29 cases went to City Court, up from 17 last year.


Last year, 56 buildings were removed from the registry after the owners either rehabilitated or demolished the buildings. This year, 21 vacant buildings have been demolished or reoccupied, Scott said. There are currently 171 vacant buildings registered with the city.


Ferran had a ``valid complaint'' that there were more blighted vacant buildings in the city, said Scott: ``Are there buildings that are worse than hers? Yes. Are they being put through the process? Yes.''


``There is nothing personal against the property owner in these cases,'' Scott said. ``This is just about enforcement and doing our job.''