National Clothesline
Take my drycleaning business – please!
A man whose drycleaning business was literally falling apart thought he had found a way out when he sold the business for $1 to another man who had a dream of converting the property into a community center for recovering addicts.
The dream quickly turned into a nightmare when the buyer found the business came with some unwanted baggage — more than $38,000 in property taxes and water and sewer charges owed to the city, perc contamination and asbestos found in debris after a portion of the drycleaning plant collapsed last December.
It was a serious case of buyer’s remorse for Eddie Person who filed a lawsuit last month seeking to have the sale voided and the property returned to Patrick S. McFall, who had sold him Peters Dry Cleaning in Lockport, NY.
The sale took place last June, just days before McFall was to be sentenced in Lockport City Court on a building violation stemming from a battle with the city’s building inspection department over construction debris on the property remaining after the facility collapsed.
McFalls’ attorney had asked the judge to show leniency in sentencing because McFall was selling the property to a local man who had a plan to remediate it.
In his lawsuit seeking to void the sale, Person said that McFall didn’t disclose the problems with the property, which he learned about after the fact from his pastor and a building inspector.
Person claims he is functionally illiterate and that he had told McFall that. McFall then read the contract to him, he said, and he signed it, but asked McFall not to finalize it until he had a chance to have someone else review it. According to his deposition, he also signed a deed and his side of a seller’s disclosure statement that outlined the property’s defects, but he claimed that McFall had not read any portion of those documents to him.
After he learned that the sale was complete, he had a friend read the signed documents in their entirety and was shocked to hear the things that had not been mentioned.
“Mr. McFall is well aware that I could not afford the expenses associated with these outstanding issues, especially because I told him on numerous occasions… that I had no money,” Person said in a deposition. He asked the court to void the sale because of “fraud and misrepresentation.”
McFall disputed Person’s version of the transaction in an interview with the Lockport Journal, saying that he had not tricked Person into taking the property.
He said he did not read the sale documents to Person verbatim, but they had discussed their contents before Person signed, including the contamination issues.
McFall also doubted Person’s claim of illiteracy. He said that Person has two Facebook pages and often used a laptop in Cafe Karma, a restaurant that McFall owns in Lockport where the real estate deal was worked out.
“If he truly can’t read, why would he sign it without having someone he trusted read it for him first? If he didn’t understand what he was signing, he shouldn’t have signed it,” McFall said. “Five months later, it sounds like buyer’s remorse to me.”
Since becoming the legal owner, Person has received notices of past-due taxes and water charges from the city. He has not received any notices from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, his attorney said.
City Attorney John Ottaviano was preparing a foreclosure petition to get control of the property so it can be tested and remediated and was planning to ask the state Supreme Court for an “incident of ownership,” which is a temporary title to the property so that the city can allow the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to initiate a cleanup.
Ottaviano said it doesn’t matter to the city who owns the site because, either way, the city is planning a tax foreclosure with state assistance in the cleanup.
Once the cleanup is done, Ottaviano said, the city could complete the foreclosure process — take the title from whoever holds it, Person, McFall or someone else — and sell the cleaned-up property.
The state lists the property as a Class 2 inactive hazardous waste site that is a danger to public health. DEC placed it on that list because of dumping of drycleaning chemicals on the ground decades ago before McFall owned the business.
McFall was sentenced Nov. 15 to three years probation for building code violations stemming from the collapse of the west wing of the 80-year-old building. The pile of bricks at the site still had not been removed 11 months after the collapse, the Lockport Journal reported.
McFall must pay the city of Lockport the money he owes, an amount yet to be determined but which includes back taxes and water bills. The city wants to add to that the cost of enforcement and prosecution. McFall has already made a $5,000 down payment on that settlement. Paying what is owed the city is the only condition of his probation, but City Judge Thomas M. DiMillo cautioned that McFall could face jail time if he misses a payment.
Attorneys for McFall and the city said they are seeking a “global settlement” that would include resolution of the suit Person filed seeking to void the sale.