Willard and Duane Preston didn't like what they found this morning when they entered an apartment Willard owns at 122 Summit Street, Batavia, so they called police.
Three doors had been pulled from the hinges, they said, three windows busted out, trash and debris littered the attic and the garage and there were numerous large holes in the walls.
They blamed the tenants they just evicted, and spurred by a recent article on The Batavian, they decided maybe they could get the police to pursue a criminal case against their former tenants.
"What is the city doing to help landlords?" Willard said. "The city can tell the landlords what to do, but the landlords can't tell the city what to do.That's my point. Damage is done? Fine. Get them in court. Put them in jail. If they're on social services, then cut it. Get them out of here. Send them back to Rochester or Buffalo."
Officer Ed Mileham confirmed he's conducting an investigation, but said he preferred not to discuss the case further.
Police Chief Randy Baker said last week that while it's possible to look at tenant damage as a criminal matter, gathering sufficient evidence to make an arrest can be difficult.
"We have a level of proof to meet before it’s a criminal matter," Baker said. "One is, was it intentionally done or recklessly done? Then it’s a matter of identifying who did the damage. We can’t always meet all those criteria, so sometimes we can’t file the criminal charges."
Mileham said he did have a case about a year ago where a woman trashed an apartment owned by James Pontillo, and in that case, Mileham said, he did make a felony arrest.
In the case of the former tenants at 122 State, a woman was originally living there with a boyfriend who had "a good job in Rochester," Willard said. She was drawing social services benefits and had a job, too.
After breaking up with her boyfriend, apparently, she asked permission to have another man move in with her, to help her pay the rent.
"Why not?" Duane said. "It helps her and it helps us. What are we going to do, say no?"
But it wasn't long, Duane said, before the couple stopped paying rent, so they started eviction proceedings. It was during the eviction period, Duane said, that he believes they did most of the damage to the apartment.
"When she moved in, the apartment was clean and recently painted," Duane said. "It was beautiful."
Pointing to an abandoned couch, Willard said that it would cost $10 to have it removed, and $10 for each of the busted TVs left behind, plus $35 for a broken smoke detector, and all of the debris left in the attic and the garage.
"The small stuff like this ads up into thousands of dollars, at least $2,000," Willard said.
And it's hard to collect from tenants like those who just moved out, Duane said, because she's on DSS and the boyfriend -- whom he said claimed to be the son of a local contractor -- worked for various roofers, contractors and property owners around the city, always getting paid allegedly under the table, so there's no way to garnish the wages of either tenant.
While both of these former tenants have longtime roots in Batavia, both Duane and Willard pointed to transplants from Rochester and Buffalo as a cause for deteriorating neighborhoods.
"Batavia used to be pretty rosy," Duane said. "I've been in this business for 20 years. The streets used to be beautifully lined and the houses were all kept up. Now -- well, I'm glad we have an enforcement officer who says, 'let's get things cleaned up.' That's great because I'd like to protect my investments."
Top photo, Duane Preston points to debris in the attic. Bottom photo, Duane and Willard hold broken hinges, which Willard said showed no sign of wear or rust, but were just sheared off.