A judge told three families to evacuate their Black Rock home Monday after the judge inspected the house and declared it unsafe.
"I can't believe people are living here," Housing Court Judge Diane Devlin said as she stood outside the house. "It's incredible. It's deplorable. I didn't feel safe going inside."
The judge also issued a warrant for the arrest of the owner of the property, a North Carolina man who inspectors say has made no efforts to repair the house.
Devlin's inspections occurred just three weeks after her appointment as Buffalo's newest City Court judge.
City inspectors say the house at 245 Grote St. is in danger of collapsing on top of gas and electric lines. The foundation contains large holes and is bowed on one side, propped up by wood struts in the basement.
Devlin, in an unusual move for a judge, visited the house and immediately announced plans for an emergency demolition. The house was one of two the judge inspected.
The other, located at 763 Humboldt Parkway and also occupied by a family with children, is fire-damaged, has holes in the roof and could face demolition as well.
The owner surprised Devlin when he informed her that the house, already damaged by fire, had been purchased from the city.
On Grote, Devlin found the tenants already packing to leave the house.
"We don't know where we're going to go," said John Ciszkowski, a tenant at the house.
Devlin advised him that the American Red Cross was prepared to help the families find temporary housing.
The judge also issued a warrant for the arrest of John L. Lowry of Lumberton, N.C. Housing records list Lowry as the property owner.
City lawyers say Lowry has made
no effort to repair the property and repeated attempts to reach him and his agent have failed. He also missed his arraignment in court Monday. The case against Lowry dates back to 1996 and includes about 10 inspections of the property, according to records.
City inspectors cited Lowry for 15 code violations but say the house is beyond repair. The violations range from the collapsing foundation to holes in the walls and ceiling to dangerous electrical connections.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Housing Court Representative Frank DiJames. "I've never seen anything so bad."
One inspector, Michael Castro, filed a court affidavit indicating the biggest concern was the "bowed and collapsing foundation wall. The wall is cracked and also located next to a gas line. The cracked wall is not structurally sound and could collapse at any time."
Devlin said the risk to tenants and neighbors is great enough for her to sign an order to vacate the property.
The new judge, appointed this month by Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, continued her personal inspections on Humboldt Parkway, where she met with owner Roy Williams Sr.
"It's not safe for you to be here," Devlin told Williams.
"It's not safe anywhere," Williams replied, "but you have to make your home somewhere. I just need a little money to make some repairs."
Williams said he bought the house in 1997 at a tax foreclosure auction held by the city. He said a fire damaged the house years earlier. The violations against Williams include a chimney that inspectors fear may soon collapse on top of power lines to a nearby city pumping station.
Devlin said she intends to meet with Williams today but, given the poor condition of the house, is likely to approve an emergency demolition.
"He can't live here," she said after inspecting the house. "It's a sad case. He'll never be able to fix this place."