city of Albany is a slumlord, complains a Fox Run Estates
resident, and now she will have to find a new place to live
Elizabeth Knapp • Photos By Leif Zurmuhlen
Spratt knows exactly when someone enters her neighborhood.
She seems to have a trained ear and jumps to her feet at
the distant sound of an engine humming or footsteps thumping
on the ground, dropping whatever it is she’s doing to get
a closer look. She put herself on “unofficial guard duty”
sometime in 2004, shortly after moving to Fox Run Estates,
a mobile home park in the town of Colonie. She worries about
her own safety, and that of her mostly elderly neighbors.
This time, it’s the middle of the day, and the trespassers
are runners—from the University at Albany, she guesses.
She evaluates the young men before they get any further.
“Well, they’re a little skinny, but they’re runners, so
I guess it’s OK,” she says, joking that she has the best
view in the park. “Look at them! This is every single girl’s
dream, right here.” Joking aside, her trailer’s placement
at the entrance of the park certainly allows her to have
a good, albeit sometimes disturbing, view of the goings-on
in her neighborhood. When the sun goes down, the park is
frequented by a different kind of crowd entirely.
The entrance to the park is an unmarked road that’s easy
to miss. The ill-lit, nearly half-mile stretch of potholed
pavement leading to Spratt’s home seems to offer delinquents
the perfect place to conduct business under the veil of
darkness. When still awake at odd hours of the night, Spratt
has been witness to countless drug deals, visits by addicts,
drunks and other “vagrants” who ask her for money and food.
She has witnessed the dumping of illegal cars, firearms
and garbage. She has made several calls to the Colonie Police
Department, she says, reporting these incidents.
She has also made countless calls to the trailer park manager.
For nearly six years, she has been fighting to put an end
to illegal activity on the property. She is unsatisfied
with the living conditions park residents are exposed to
and distressed by the lack of concern demonstrated by her
landlord: the city of Albany.
Since her complaints about the state of her neighborhood
continued to go unanswered, Spratt decided to try a different
tactic. In an act of protest, the self-proclaimed ex-hippie
chose not to pay her rent for 22 months. “I wanted to pay,”
she said, “I really did. But I wanted them to do what’s
The city retaliated in 2008, when Spratt was served with
an eviction notice for nonpayment. She says that she was
glad to meet the city’s lawyers in court with a payment
plan in hand. She would agree to pay the money she owed
if they would agree to take care of her neighborhood. However,
instead of addressing the safety issues raised by Spratt
or the matter of nonpayment, the city’s representation focused
on the legitimacy of Spratt’s residence in the park—she
was neither the trailer’s owner nor a leaseholder on the
week, the ongoing battle between Spratt and the city finally
came to an end.
In a way that Spratt calls “deceptive and manipulative,”
the city has forced her to vacate the trailer that sits
on lot number 77 in Fox Run Estates.
2000, the landfill-adjacent property on which the trailers
sit was purchased by the City of Albany. Residents were
offered a buyout of $25,000 to relocate within six months.
Many of the older residents stayed. It was more affordable
to stay, considering many of their trailers would not have
survived a move. Those who did stay were asked to sign a
lease modification and extension agreement detailing the
city’s ownership, which expires in 2015. Tenants were promised
$1,000 per year, paid in two installments, as mitigation
for any disturbances that the ever-growing landfill might
cause, such as odor, noise, truck traffic and the unsightly
and growing mound of solid waste.
city bought this property with one thing in mind,” says
Spratt. “And that’s to dump more garbage on it.”
Rapp Road Landfill has been expanded several times into
the Pine Bush, a globally rare pine-barren ecosystem inhabited
by federally endangered species like the Karner Blue butterfly.
The city proposed to expand the landfill for the fifth time
in 2005, in order to fully meet the city’s solid waste disposal
For decades, every expansion has been met with controversy,
as environmentalists worry over the destruction of the Pine
Bush and legislators and taxpayers argue over the cost to
expand. Save the Pine Bush, a volunteer nonprofit organization
dedicated to preserving the native habitat, has been fighting
against every City Hall decision to increase the landfill’s
size. In recent months, legislators have been voting against
the bonding measure the city must take in order to expand
The 2000 buyout of Fox Run and the city’s expressed desire
to expand the Rapp Road landfill seemed to go hand-in-hand.
It was right there in the new lease: “The City received
a permit from New York State Department of Environmental
Conservation (the “Department”) dated February 29, 2000
to further expand the Landfill . . . The Department has
required as mitigation and enhancement for the expansion,
that the City purchase approximately 60 acres of land which
includes Fox Run Estates, and dedicate the property to the
Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission.”
If the city dedicated the land to the preserve commission
as it stated in the lease, the trailer-park property would
be used solely for restoration, which is intended to preserve
the ecosystem and its endangered species. However, the city
did not dedicate the land after it was purchased, and originally
proposed an expansion that would allow the landfill itself
to extend into Fox Run.
Save the Pine Bush protested, as this violated the tenants’
leases and overlooked the restoration requirement included
in the permit the city received from the DEC to expand the
landfill. Save the Pine Bush’s objection prompted the city
to dedicate the trailer park property to the preserve as
it should have done initially, and instead plan a westward
expansion. This was objected to as well, since the land
to the west had already been dedicated to Pine Bush restoration
and legislators had failed to follow through on a plan to
remove it from the preserve.
The city finally introduced the current plan of eastward
expansion, which requires the Solid Waste Management facility
to relocate some of the buildings that lie on the landfill’s
east side and use the preserve’s trailer-park property to
restore the land back to the native Pine Bush.
mitigation for their destruction of 15 acres of Pine Bush
that the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission has designated
for protection,” explains Save the Pine Bush’s Lynne Jackson.
an interesting thing for us,” says Albany Assistant Corporation
Counsel Bradford Burns, “because in 2000, we were forced
to become landlords. The city wanted the entire area dedicated
back to the Pine Bush Commission. So we were thrown into
an area that a city isn’t normally thrown into. And we’ve
been figuring things out as we go along.”
The lease is signed by Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. The
residents are instructed to make their checks payable to
the Albany city treasurer. The contact number is Albany’s
solid-waste manager and manager of the Rapp Road landfill,
Spratt has filed complaints with Giebelhaus, who has yet
to address them.
While they live on land coveted by Solid Waste Management,
a division of Albany’s Department of General Services, the
tenants’ basic wants and needs are in the hands of their
waste collectors. Spratt insists the only service they receive
consistently is the weekly garbage pickup, their park manager’s
paying $335 a month,” she says. “And what we get on a steady
basis is garbage pickup once a week. Well, you can buy one
big-ass dumpster for $335 a month.”
the acting trailer park manager, Giebelhaus is responsible
for handling tenants’ complaints or concerns. After determining
whether the complaint is valid, he is expected to delegate
specific duties to one of their private contractors or a
different branch of the DGS.
person in charge of Fox Run,” says Burns, “dare I say ‘landlord?’
No, the city is the landlord, but the face of Albany for
the residents of Fox Run is Joe Giebelhaus.”
While representatives of Albany point to Giebelhaus as the
park’s primary caretaker, Giebelhaus insists “the entire
city fulfills a certain role.” The way in which these roles
are separated between the involved entities is blurred,
and the umbrella term of “the city” is constantly used by
those entities when identifying the park’s landlord. Yet
even the commissioner of DGS, Nicholas D’Antonio, tells
Metroland that while the entire city is responsible
for maintaining the park, “Joseph Giebelhaus is the one
to call for the upkeep.”
manages the city’s waste and recycling collection, oversees
the operations of the Rapp Road landfill and plays a vital
role in the restoration project. Maintaining a property
such as Fox Run Estates does not seem to fit his job description
of solid-waste manager. His control over Fox Run is purely
circumstantial. And he is virtually unreachable when it
comes to matters concerning the property. The hours of operation
of Solid Waste Management are from 7 AM to 3 PM. During
this time, calls from Metroland are consistently
directed to Giebelhaus’ answering machine, and days lapse
before he responds.
Spratt complains that this is typical. “Talk to Giebelhaus,
if you can reach him. It’s always a recording over there.”
When asked by Metroland how residents can contact
him, Giebelhaus said it is his office number they are supposed
to call, although the nature of his job requires him to
be away from his desk often throughout the day. “There’s
a lot of field work involved,” he said. “So if [residents]
leave a voice mail and it’s an emergency, I’ll get right
Spratt says that she has complained to Giebelhaus about
numerous issues that have yet to be resolved.
Unlike most landlords, the city entered the agreement knowing
its responsibility was temporary. It was clear from the
beginning that the number of Fox Run residents would dwindle
and eventually the park would no longer exist as a residential
property, thus terminating Giebelhaus’ role as a property
city purchased it with the intention of turning it over
to the Pine Bush Preserve,” says Giebelhaus. “We agreed
to maintain the property, and we started out with over 90
tenants. Now we’re down to a handful. Nine, I believe.”
Of these nine trailers, five stand in the way of the restoration
plan. The remaining four are to remain in the park under
the city’s control until 2015.
in front of Paula Spratt’s trailer sits a deteriorating
wooden hut that shelters the residents’ mailboxes. The current
state of the hut is more of a danger than a protector, with
wooden beams splintering off from the ceiling, leaving holes
in the roof. Spratt claims she never gets her mail at night,
since the mailbox hut hasn’t had lighting while she’s lived
there, and she would have no idea what obstacles she might
She points to the entrance to the park, which is riddled
with potholes, some of which are haphazardly patched, only
making it worse in the winter and nearly impossible to drive
In December of last year, a black garbage bag was dropped
off at the entrance of the park, after the trash had already
been collected for the week. This wasn’t unusual to see,
as most intruders treat Fox Run as if it’s a dumping ground.
The next week, before piling it on the truck, the two men
collecting garbage could tell something was different about
this bag. Spratt ran out to investigate and was warned that
its contents may be disturbing. Inside the bag were the
bodies of four cats, in various stages of decomposition.
After further investigation, the bag was connected to an
address previously recognized by police for animal cruelty.
Spratt says the installation of lights at the entrance would
be a great help. She wants Fox Run to be recognized as a
functioning place of residence. Visibility might deter criminal
activity, and allow residents to feel safer.
According to the city attorney Burns, there are two documents
that distinguish the responsibilities of the city, and those
of the tenants: Fox Run Estates Rules and Regulations, which
was given to each tenant upon signing their renewed lease
in 2000, and Section 233 of the New York State Real Property
Section 233 of New York State Real Property Law consists
of the “Manufactured Homes Program,” wherein it states “the
occupants of such manufactured homes if rented shall not
be subjected to any conditions which would be dangerous,
hazardous or detrimental to their life, health or safety.”
According to Fox Run Estates Rules and Regulations, the
city of Albany entered an agreement to maintain the property
at the city’s expense—mowing the lawns, plowing the roads
and providing a number for tenants to call to report operational
problems. “Upon being contacted by a resident, the city
shall take such steps as may be reasonably necessary to
address such problems and inform resident of the investigation
By simply ignoring every complaint made by Spratt, the city
appears to be violating both the terms of the lease and
the New York State Real Property Law.
Andrew Martin, property manager of Hometown Real Estate,
and Bob McRae, president of Capital District Association
of Rental Property Owners, both own and manage properties
in the Capital Region. They agree that a typical property
is likely to be shut down by the city if it is not well
maintained. The city’s ownership of Fox Run Estates seems
to be the loophole.
funny, because here Albany is getting bad landlords to comply
and sometimes hassling good landlords,” said McRae, “when
they themselves are running a property that’s in disrepair.”
The fact that Albany owns the property “doesn’t excuse them
with forgoing routine maintenance. Not when it’s a safety
hazard like the lighting and extent of the road conditions.”
Martin manages mobile home parks in Glens Falls and Troy
and says, “The bottom line is, landlords have to let their
residents feel safe.”
Luciano lives behind Spratt with his wife, Doris, who recently
suffered a stroke. There are three trailers next to theirs,
towards the back of the park. There are five on the other
side of the road, closer to the landfill. It’s conceivable
that this park was at one point a nice place to live; modest
and quaint, tucked away from the city’s clamor.
Luciano reluctantly answers his door and hesitates before
stepping out onto his porch, where he leans on the railing
The Lucianos moved to Fox Run in 1995, when, according to
Lou, it was well-maintained. They intended to live simply,
in a place where they felt at home.
Though he wasn’t particularly fond of the previous landlord,
Luciano couldn’t deny that the park was in better condition
then than it is now. He has called Giebelhaus a couple of
times, for insect-related problems that were attended to
initially but not consistently.
tough to try to get them to take care of anything,” he said.
He points to the dying trees, and the ones that have been
half-eaten by birds and other animals, leaving the bottom
branches bare. “Eyesores,” he says.
The inside of Spratt’s trailer is a testament to a life
spent collecting: an amalgam of possessions and souvenirs.
Among some clutter, however, is immaculate paperwork, some
of which dates back to 2004, when she moved in. In separate
labeled and dated folders, she keeps record of every interaction
she has had with Giebelhaus, the police, lawyers, and the
Albany Common Council regarding her home.
She keeps track of what she says are the city’s inconsistencies
The proposed eviction gave Spratt the attention she wanted,
but it did not go exactly according to plan, as Spratt is
not the home’s owner and Fox Run leaseholder. Instead, the
lease is held by Richard Hazen, who, according to Spratt,
offered her the trailer to stay in. He was looking for someone
to care for his property while he stayed with his mother,
who was very sick.
Hazen handed her the key and Spratt decided to take him
up on his offer. “The whole thing was done in a handshake,”
says Spratt. “And that’s how humanity should be.”
In 2005, Spratt attended a meeting to discuss the future
of Fox Run, during which Giebelhaus discussed more buyout
figures. Spratt, equipped with a handwritten note from Hazen,
detailing their arrangement, spoke out about the park’s
The city had a problem with their agreement: What Spratt
calls a legal caretaker arrangement is seen by the city
as an illegal sublet, as detailed in the lease.
Spratt argues that she has lived and made payments on the
property with the city’s knowledge since 2005. After she
was called into court in 2008, Spratt complied with the
law department’s request and exchanged the handwritten note
for a durable power of attorney stating she was the trailer’s
caretaker. It was agreed to by a Colonie judge that she
had the authority to make decisions regarding the trailer
and its lot.
Although it was the city of Albany’s law department that
requested Spratt to file a power-of-attorney document, they
failed to honor it. In their eyes, Spratt was still living
in the trailer illegally. After several attempts to remove
Spratt from Fox Run, the city went directly to the source.
They located the trailer’s owner and sent him a buyout letter—the
same one the other four trailers had received.
Hazen is a 75-year-old security guard at an upstate hospital.
He agreed to take the $40,000 buyout in order to retire.
This means Spratt will have to leave the park in 30 days.
Although she says she does not agree with the way the city
has handled anything in the past six years, she bears no
resentment toward Hazen.
Her anger, she says, stems from the fact that the city makes
more of an effort to eliminate their residents than care
far as my future, hey, it’s just as bright and sunny as
it always was. The only bitter feelings I have are toward
these hypocrites that stand up and say, ‘Oh we’re thinking
about you people, and we’re doing our best for you people.’
Wrong. They are liars and they are thieves. How can these
people collect a paycheck? How do these people sleep at
Around the time Spratt started receiving press for her court
date in March, the city seemed to take more of an interest
in the park. A contractor came on Giebelhaus’ orders to
evaluate the state of the mailbox hut and the lack of lighting
that Spratt had been talking about for six years. He took
the row of mailboxes off the wooden stand, and propped it
atop a garbage can—where it still sits today. He examined
the wires, but was not able to connect a light to an electricity
source. According to Spratt, no one has been back since.
As 2015 looms over the remaining residents of Fox Run, the
city is preoccupied with matters concerning the landfill
and its accompanying restoration project. After 10 years,
it seems unlikely that the living conditions of the park
were all kinds of promises made,” Luciano says. “Not in
the contract, but verbally. They’ve always said they were
going to put in street lights. I don’t know what they’re
planning on doing anymore.” He pauses to gesture toward
the landfill; a mound of compressed waste that juts through
the horizon just a few hundred yards from his porch. He
shakes his head and laughs.
at that,” he says. “This place is a dump.”