In this Nov. 25, 2015 photo, a lot stands empty in West Hempstead, N.Y., after the township had the home that once stood on it torn down. Homeowner Philip Williams says he went to Fort Lauderdale for the knee replacement in December, 2014. When he returned to the West Hempstead home in August 2015, his home was gone. (AP Photo/Frank Eltman)
A 69-year-old U.S. Navy veteran was surprised to find an empty lot where his home used to be after a length recovery from surgery.
In December 2014, Philip Williams went to Florida for a procedure, but developed infections that forced further surgery and heart complications, leaving him hospitalized until doctors deemed him medically able to return home in August, according to The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, officials in the town of Hempstead deemed Williams' modest two-story home unfit for habitation and knocked it down.
Officials say they tried to contact Williams and provided The Associated Press with copies of letters they said they mailed to the home and to banks. They also held a public hearing before going forward with the demolition. According to town officials, neighbors had been complaining the house was in disrepair and a blight on the community. Hempstead officials sent inspectors and determined the house was a "dilapidated dwelling" unfit for habitation. So they knocked it down.
When Williams returned in August, he pulled up to an empty lot where his two-story cream-colored cottage used to be.
"My first thought was there was a fire or something," Williams said.
Williams says he was never contacted and believes town officials thought his house was a so-called "zombie home" - a dwelling abandoned after foreclosure proceedings begin, but one not yet seized by the bank - and rushed to demolish it.
"The town basically took everything from me," said Williams, who is now staying with a friend in Florida and has only two suitcases of belongings. "The town does not have a right to take all of my property, all of my possessions."
Williams contends that he never received any of the notices and said he couldn't figure out why the letters were mailed to four separate banks where he never had accounts.
He has filed a notice of claim, the first step in a lawsuit against the town, and also is fighting for public records he believes may show what happened.