County takes Elmont co-op managers to court


More than two-dozen senior citizens still cannot return to their Elmont homes some three weeks after a flash flood forced them to evacuate. And now Nassau County has filed a lawsuit against the co-op managers at 1888 Foster Meadow Lane to force the building back into compliance with fire codes.

Ernestine Mair, who has been staying with her daughter in a one-bedroom apartment since the flood, desperately wants to return.

“I’m 86 years old, and I live nowhere,” Mair said. “I live nowhere.”

The county filed a lawsuit on Oct. 4 just weeks after officials condemned the 18-year-old building over fire code violations. Targeted in the complaint are Woods and Ruff Management, the property manager brought on in 2020, as well Bedford Construction Group, which constructed the complex in the first place. Also named in the suit is 1888 Foster Meadow Lane Redevelopment Corp. — the co-operative collectively representing the seniors who own units there.

The suit also intends to identify alternative housing for the residents until they can return home.

Since emergency shelter services ended, the county said it has provided room and board at the Long Island Marriott Hotel in Uniondale at a cost of more than $200,000. The suit claimed that the defendants are liable to repay the county for these services, which Nassau insists it was “not legally obligated” to provide.

According to county officials, “no other federal, state or local entity was willing or able to assist (the) residents.” The county did not immediately respond to the Herald’s requests for comment.

The Foster Meadow Lane residents say they were shuttled to the Nassau County Supreme Court building earlier this month under the pretense that County Executive Bruce Blakeman would hold a news conference about conditions in their building. They said they were not told a suit would be filed, nor that the co-op would be listed as one of the defendants in that suit.

“Who sues the people who are victims?” Gerald Karikari, chief executive of Woods and Ruff Management, told reporters afteward. “What idea is that?”

The facility routinely floods and has been evacuated in the past, according to the residents. Before last month, seniors there were displaced for two months after the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit in 2021, according to 87-year-old resident Pearlene Wilkinson. Ruth Coleman, first president of the co-op, said the building has dealt with flooding issues since at least 2011 when she moved in.

Longstanding environmental and infrastructural issues at the property, as well as financial constraints of the “heavily indebted” co-op, have impacted restoration and recovery efforts, according to Woods and Ruff Management. Gaps in the insurance coverage for the building have delayed building repairs, Karikari added.

“The co-op is deeply in debt because of prior floods, and the county and its agencies deny accountability despite the county’s previous acknowledgement of structural problems as far back as 2011,” Karikari said in a release.

Bedford Construction Group settled a 2011 lawsuit more than a decade ago for $42,500 filed against the county, the town’s housing authority, the Water Authority of Western Nassau County, and the New York Racing Association, related to what Bedford claimed was property damage caused by stormwater runoff. The building is at the bottom of an incline below Belmont Park — which is managed by NYRA — prompting some residents at the time to fear the runoff flooding the building contained manure.

The settlement ultimately absolved the NYRA, the county and the town housing authority of any liability connected to stormwater-related damages at the co-op.

“Didn’t somebody know that if you build a basement with mechanicals, elevator, hot water heater, boilers, then you have to protect it from water?” Karikari asked. “But instead, they allow water runoff from the next building and from their own property to run off into the basement of these people’s property.”

Woods and Ruff officials say there is no timeframe for when the building will comply with the county’s orders, barring the infusion of significant capital to get it done.

“Woods and Ruff remains ready, willing and able to work with any and all partners to expedite the return of the residents to their units safely,” according to a statement from the management company.

Since 2018, County Legislator Carriè Solages has written several letters to the Federal Emergency Management Agency requesting that the federal government step in to help fix infrastructure problems around the property.

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages said her heart goes out to the seniors who have been routinely displaced at 1888 Foster Meadow Lane.

“At the end of the day, we need to work together to fix this issue,” Michaelle Solages said.