Watertown apartment trashed, owner blames state’s eviction moratorium, bail reform

WWNY Watertown apartment trashed, owner blames state’s eviction moratorium, bail reform

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The inside of a Watertown apartment building is trashed and the cleanup and damage will cost the owners thousands of dollars. It’s a predicament the property owner says is a result of state and pandemic-related policies.

Property owner Joseph Lawlor says it’s no mess; it’s more like a bomb went off inside of 323 Sterling Street. Garbage is everywhere. So are used needles.

Lawlor has owned the property with his brother for 10 years. But, he says problems started to come up when the pandemic began and the eviction moratorium was put in place.

“The moratorium was absolutely devastating. It allowed people to stay in the apartments, as many people know, without paying rent and that was it. That was the last time people paid,” he said.

Lawlor says with tenants skipping rent, it started getting worse.

In January, tenants were kicked out when city code enforcement condemned the place. But, Lawlor says that didn’t stop them from trying to get back in.

“We would board it up, cost us thousands of dollars. They would tear it down. We’d come back and board it up. They would tear it down and it involved the poor police department every time and I was worried someone would get hurt or worse,” he said.

Lawlor says the police did make some arrests, but all of those suspects were put right back on the street because of bail reform - number two in a one-two punch of state policies hurting these landlords.

“The catch and release program doesn’t help and I realize that this isn’t something that can be dealt with that way; these people need help,” said Lawlor.

Lawlor says you can see where people were breaking in through the cellar and tunneling up through the floor to continue using the space.

Finally, Lawlor got a security company, STAT communications, to install a security system, which stopped the break-ins. But the damage was already done.

Lawlor says it’s going to cost about $4,000 to $5,000 to clean up all of the mess, plus maybe another $30,000 to make repairs.

He says this is a perfect example of what the city of Watertown could use the money it received from the American Rescue Plan, which is supposed to help landlords in situations like this.

“I understand that the state has its reasonings, but what they did was drop the ball when it came to helping out landlords, helping out the people that ended up floating the bill for all of these things,” said Lawlor.

So, what about the idea of Watertown using some of its $23 million from the American Rescue Plan to help offset the negative effects of the eviction moratorium?

City Manager Ken Mix says the city is waiting on more guidance on how the money can be used, and the city should learn more in May.

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