Homeowner says he was bilked by city

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A dog lounges leisurely in the backyard of John Biagi’s Utopia Parkway home, which rests on a quiet corner, overlooking the neighborhood park.

But in place of this Fresh Meadows man’s white picket fence is a white handcrafted billboard sign that reads “Another Homeowner Screwed by NYC” in bold, red-painted lettering.

“This is the American Dream to buy a house, and I love it. But how can I afford to keep it? The city just comes and does whatever it wants. I feel violated,” said Biagi, who has lived in his home for over 20 years.

Biagi, a 62-year-old retired mechanic, told The Courier he was warned in 2004 by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to replace approximately 68-square-feet of sidewalk on his property — defective from two trees that the city recently removed, he said. Although Biagi said he had every plan to cooperate with the agency, he first requested for more information about the broken slabs. He said he did not hear back from them.

Then, city workers came out of the woodwork in 2009, he said, replacing nearly the entire sidewalk surrounding Biagi’s corner home — including close to 800-square-feet of pavement instead of the originally estimated 68.

The total cost the city billed to Biagi: $2,240.69.

“If the sidewalk is bad in front of your house, I understand it’s your responsibility to get it fixed. If you came and told me I have to fix three broken slabs, show me where and I’ll pay you. But they never notified me. I came home one afternoon, and every piece of concrete around my house was totally gone,” Biagi said.

According to the city’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC), the revised estimate was “based on additional sidewalk flags which were observed to be broken or were identified as trip hazards.”

However, the agency said the total bill sent to Biagi only represented 30 percent of the total sidewalk replacement work. The other 70 percent of the construction, officials said, were done to “provide uniformity in grade” and were not charged to Biagi’s account.

Out of frustration, Biagi said he called 3-1-1, filed three complaints and then contacted the city’s comptroller John Liu, the DOT, the DDC and Councilmember Dan Halloran — who he said was the only helpful one.

Still, four years later, Biagi said he keeps getting the runaround from the city’s agencies.

“Each year, I get letters from these people saying they are going to investigate, but they said, ‘It may take a year.’ It’s been four years since they redid the cement. It’s been four years now that I’ve been waiting,” Biagi said.

According to the DDC, investigations and requests for more information can take four months up to a few years.

Biagi said what angers him most is the fact that the DDC allegedly attached the expenses to his mortgage and took the remaining balance out of his real estate taxes.

“They said, ‘Once you pay it, we can’t refund your money.’ But, I didn’t pay them. It’s like everywhere you turn, when you walk down the street, you have to hold on to your wallet because you fear somebody’s going to rob you. You come to your house, and you feel you’re safe. But with this city, with this administration, I’m not safe with the doors locked with a 130-pound dog,” Biagi said. “They go into my bank account and take money. They’re charging you for what’s not yours. They get away with it a thousand times. But I’m making noise. I’m not taking this anymore.”

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