When a US Navy veteran traveled from Long Island to Florida for a knee replacement, his house was the last thing on his mind. Philip Williams' home was demolished in the spring by Hempstead town officials while he spent about six months recuperating in Fort Lauderdale. Back in New York, officials in the town deemed his modest home unfit for habitation and knocked it down. The 69-year-old has now waged a legal battle against the town. He wants reimbursement—for the house and all the belongings inside. "It's just wrong on so many levels," he said "My mortgage was up to date, my property taxes were up to date ... everything was current and fine." According to town officials, neighbors had been complaining the house was in disrepair and a blight. Hempstead officials, responding to those complaints, sent inspectors and determined the house was a "dilapidated dwelling" unfit for habitation. So they knocked it down.
"The town basically took everything from me," said Williams. Town officials say they tried to contact Williams and provided copies of letters they mailed to the home and to banks. They also held a public hearing before the demolition. But Williams contends he never received any notices and said he couldn't figure out why the letters were mailed to four separate banks where he never had accounts."Under the law, it should not happen," his attorney, Bradley Siegel said. "It's un-American. It just doesn't seem believable." Williams has filed a notice of claim, the first step in a lawsuit against the town, and also is fighting for public records he believes may show what happened. Williams has contacted police and the Nassau County district attorney's office and has asked for a criminal inquiry. "You see people who went through a tornado or a flood and they say they lost everything, but that's not preventable," Williams said. "This was preventable. The town took my house." (Read more demolition stories.)