Brighton, N.Y. – The family moved into 44 Meadow Drive last March. The ranch house, which had been vacant for two years, sits at the end of a cul de sac of modest single-family homes.
“They mixed with us at first. They talked of the children being enrolled in our schools,” said neighbor Meg Northrop. “Why would we doubt that?”
Doubts set in when neighbors didn’t see any record of a sale in the newspaper.
“We couldn’t figure out who they bought it from and how they bought it,” said Northrop.
“They would show up, drop off a bunch of stuff and then we wouldn’t see them for days,” said neighbor Ann Vitale.
Neighbors contacted the home’s owner, William Good. He stopped paying his mortgage after he moved out. Good didn’t think he owned the property anymore, but neighbors discovered the bank had not started foreclosure proceedings. That meant Good was still in control of the property. He told neighbors he did not authorize anyone to live there.
Neighbors called police to report the family was trespassing. Police took a report, but did not make any arrests. Because the family had been living in the house for some time and claimed rights to the property, they were considered squatters under the law and had to be evicted in civil court. Good gave the neighbors permission to hire a lawyer to represent him in an eviction proceeding.
“You don’t want this in your neighborhood,” said Meg Northrop.
“I can understand if somebody needs a place to live but I think there’s other ways to do it,” said Rob Northrop.
Santashia Reed and her fiancé, Christopher Newton, moved into 44 Meadow Dr. with four of Reed’s children.
“This has nothing to do with squatting. This is pure discrimination,” said Reed.
Reed and Newton believe the neighbors targeted them because they’re black. They said the neighbors called them the “N” word and sent them racist messages.
“We’re honest people. I’ve never been in trouble before,” said Reed. “It’s just unfortunate that I was born the wrong skin color.”
Newton said he found the house by driving around. He knew it was vacant and researched its ownership. Newton said he called Good, who told him he didn’t want anything to do with the property. Newton said he contacted the bank holding the mortgage, which told him it couldn’t sell him the house because it had not started the foreclosure. Newton said he went back to Good, who gave him the keys and permission to move in. Newton said he had an understanding with the bank and Good he would buy the house when the bank took possession.
Why would Good give away his house?
“He had already lost it,” said Newton.
Newton admitted he put no money down, had nothing in writing and paid no taxes on the property.
“Based on my conversation with Mr. Good and with the bank, and seeing his interest in the property was basically nonexistent, there was no problem with it,” said Newton. “Had the neighbors just been neighbors, this conversation wouldn’t be happening.”
Newton served more than 10 years in state prison for robbery, burglary, criminal possession of a forged instrument and escape. Reed and Newton expressed anger Newton’s parole was violated after neighbors contacted police.
13WHAM News contacted Good. He said he’d never met Reed and Newton or gave them permission to move into his house. “That’s something they made up,” Good said. “They did their homework.”
“They were pure squatters,” said Samuel Dispenza, Good’s attorney.
The court proceeding took several months. After considering evidence, including testimony from Reed and Good, a Brighton Town judge ordered the family evicted.
Sheriff’s deputies served the notice on Tuesday. The neighbors paid for a moving truck, locksmith and deputies, all required for an eviction.
The family had moved out the night before. The house was in shambles. Appliances were removed. There was a hole in the living room floor. Clothes and mattresses were scattered in rooms. Reed and Newton said they removed items they installed in the house.
An enclosure company secured the house. There was nothing to store except two bicycles that had been left in the backyard.
“That house is vacant today,” said Newton. “That house is going to bring down your housing value.”
The neighbors deny racism played a role in their eviction effort, which cost them about $4,000.
“Probably the most surprising thing was how quickly someone’s rights go to being civil from criminal,” said Ron Northrop.
“We pay our taxes. We maintain our homes. We look out for each other. We care,” said Vitale. “They just never did any of those things.”