It has been 15 months since former Suffolk County Legislator George Guldi’s Westhampton Beach home was gutted by a fire, and one village resident is tired of seeing what he calls a hazardous eyesore still standing.
“I’d like to see them knock it down,” Peter Lehmann said this week after making the same request to the Westhampton Beach Village Board earlier this month.
At the board meeting on February 4, Mr. Lehmann voiced concern about the decrepit and boarded up two-story building on Griffing Avenue, and asked if village officials had the power to force Mr. Guldi to demolish it. The former legislator, who was indicated in September on felony insurance fraud charges after authorities said he failed to spend the $853,000 issued by his insurance company to rebuild the home, secured a demolition permit last January, according to Paul Houlihan, the building and zoning administrator for Westhampton Beach.
The permit is still valid even though Mr. Guldi has not taken any action to demolish the home, Mr. Houlihan said. Authorities have previously stated that the fire that destroyed the home in November 2008 was accidental. Fire officials stated at the time that an electrical malfunction in the home’s basement sparked the blaze.
Mr. Guldi was also arrested last spring, months after his house burned down, and accused of masterminding a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme targeting dozens of homes on the East End, and again on an unrelated tax evasion charge in November. Mr. Guldi pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
Mr. Houlihan said the village lacks the authority to tear down the building, which is now in foreclosure. According to village code, the municipality can raze a building only if it is a threat to people’s safety, such as when a structure is in danger of collapsing. The Guldi home, while severely damaged, has not yet reached that point, according to Mr. Houlihan.
Instead, village officials are trying to force Mr. Guldi to clean up the property and secure the gutted home until a new owner can demolish the structure. Village officials said they sent a notice of violation to Mr. Guldi earlier this week, after the complaint against his property became a matter of public record, asking both Countrywide Home Loans, the bank controlling the mortgage, and him to secure the home and remove debris, specifically a large group of bricks that used to be the house’s chimney, from the property.
It is not clear who has control of the property as tax records list Mr. Guldi as the owner. However, Country Wide Home Loans, a division of Bank of America, was listed as the entity that paid the December 2009 tax bill, according to records.
If Mr. Guldi or the bank does not respond to the violation within 10 days, the village will schedule a public hearing to discuss its next step. The deadline for either Mr. Guldi or the bank to take action was not immediately clear.
If no action is taken, village officials would secure the building and clean up the property, and tack the cost of the work onto the tax bill, Mr. Houlihan said. He explained that efforts have moved at a snail’s pace because village officials have not been able to get in touch with Mr. Guldi for months.
Mr. Guldi did not return a message left on his cell phone, and the phone at his Westhampton Beach law office will not accept any new messages.
Mr. Houlihan said that there are two main issues with buildings damaged by fire: unsightliness and danger. The village’s current goal is to remove debris and force either Mr. Guldi or the bank to properly secure the building.
The bank will eventually sell the property and the new owner would most likely want to demolish the damaged building, Mr. Houlihan said. He predicted that the fire-gutted home will not be an eyesore for too much longer.
“It’s not like it’s going to go 20 years, five years or even two years,” he said.
Mr. Guldi was charged with insurance fraud in September after authorities stated the he did not use the $853,000 he received from his insurance company to rebuild his Westhampton Beach home. According to Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office, if the home was not rebuilt with that money, Countrywide Home Loans would have applied the insurance money to Mr. Guldi’s $1.4 million outstanding mortgage. In September, prosecutors froze the account that Mr. Guldi deposited the $853,000 check in. It had about $163,000 remaining in it at the time. Prosecutors also charged Mr. Guldi with forging the endorsement of Countrywide Home Loans when he deposited the check.
Not much has been done to Mr. Guldi’s home, which has been in his family since the 1940s, since it caught fire while he and his family were out of town. The windows are still boarded up and two visible holes can be seen on the roof. There is another gaping hole on the south side of the home that allows easy entry for vagrants and curious children, Mr. Houlihan added. The interior is charred and there are holes in the floor.