Phillipsburg, N.J. - Several Phillipsburg, N.J. residents appeared before the town council Tuesday night over what they described as their steadily declining living conditions due to a property owner who one woman described as "the highest paid Section Eight landlord in Phillipsburg."
"Enough is enough," stated Connie and James Fuoco of 147 Lewis Street in southwest Phillipsburg referring to their tenant next door neighbors at 151 Lewis St. and their landlord Lenny Boutros who also owns and operates a small grocery and convenience store just two blocks away.
"It's been 13 years of hell," complained fellow neighbor Jennifer Stone of 153 Lewis Street who presented council with sheets of photos showing garbage strewn throughout the neighborhood in addition to other violations.
James Fuoco said as soon as one of Boutros' Section Eight renters moves out, almost immediately another takes their place. Each new one is worse than the last, he said.
Mayor Stephen Ellis said referring to 151 Lewis St., "I've seen the property and I wouldn't live next door to it." He also added it's difficult for the police to catch residents in the act when carrying out their "antics."
The antics according to neighbors include throwing garbage anywhere and everywhere, making excessive noise, and uncut grass and weeds encroaching on their properties.
Connie Fuoco claimed when police have arrived following a call, they treat her with disdain and even hostility. She said that in most instances they say there's nothing they can do unless they witness the infractions personally.
Fuoco also said ordinances need to be changed to protect taxpaying homeowners and hold absentee landlords responsible for the condition of their properties.
Council President Todd Tersigni, a landlord himself , said his properties are "pristine" and called some of Fuoco's and Stone's pictures horrible" and promised to file a formal complaint against Boutros for neglect and mismanagement of both his properties and tenants.
Ellis said both Fuoco's and Stone's properties are "spotless".
Tersigni said he was familiar with Boutros and noted he previously filed seven other complaints against negligent landlords which resulted in the successful prosecution of all seven cases. He commented to the residents, "You don't need to live like this, and I'm sorry you had to put up with these shenanigans."
A Heckman Street resident who asked not to be identified said she feels terrorized and extremely unsafe in her neighborhood. She said Boutros hung up on her after she called him and requested he control his tenants in her neighborhood.
The woman claims there's gang activity on her street and is fearful every time she leaves her house early in the morning to go to work. She predicted unless the town does something soon, "something bad is really going to happen."
James Fuoco said if nothing is done soon he would like a reduction in his property taxes for living in such adverse conditions.
WFMZ called Boutros, who did not attend the meeting, for comment and he said the Fuocos and Ms. Stone are the problem, calling them nitpicky and questioning their motivation.
Boutros charges that the neighbors complain about trivial things like when trash bags are left on the curb. He says they harass and annoy whomever is living at 151 Lewis St. until they move out. He believes that prejudice against Section 8 renters and minorities is a factor in the dispute.
Boutros says he has been by the property many times and says it's clean. He questions whether the photos shown at council are current.
He also said Ms. Stone had approached him in the past to find housing for her cousin but her cousin could not afford the $1100-a-month rent. Boutros thinks Ms. Stone is retaliating against him due to his refusal to rent to her cousin.
Boutros says the current tenant, a single mother of three, is breaking the lease with him after less than a year due to the constant harassment he says she has endured. He says the tenant before her moved out after only a year and a half.
He contends that the harassment the Fuocos' and Stone heap upon whomever is renting the property is the reason there is so much turnover there. He added he has approximately 60 properties and this is the only one he hears constant complaints about.
Boutros says he will be contacting his lawyer concerning a response to the accusations and plans on attending the next town council meeting to present his side of the story.
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