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Lewis County clears hurdle in possible eviction at old school

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials have cleared a legal hurdle in the possible eviction of a “free man” and his family from a long-shuttered school building in Lyons Falls.

State Supreme Court Justice Charles C. Merrell, in a ruling filed last week in the Lewis County clerk’s office, upheld a January default judgment order intended to stop people from living in the old school building at 6832 McAlpine St. until code violations are resolved.

In his decision, the judge indicated the county had followed proper procedure thus far. He also wrote the defendant, Robert Rustad Syversen, had brought no “meritorious defense” to the matter and the county complaint “raises serious issues regarding the safety of the Defendant and his family in their present living conditions.”

“The county will proceed with inspection of the facility and follow through with it,” County Attorney Richard J. Graham said Monday.

In August, code enforcement officers, after getting permission from Judge Merrell, conducted an initial inspection of the school, which was closed by the South Lewis Central School District in 1982. They determined a 1,200-square-foot section on the second story of the 16,032-square-foot building — still zoned educational — was being improperly used as a single-family residence, with a kitchen, bathroom and three bedrooms. They also found peeling paint suspected to be lead-based, electrical wiring left dangling from ceilings and walls and other deficiencies.

That led the judge to issue his order.

However, a follow-up inspection and report confirming the status must be done before any action may be taken to remove the family, Mr. Graham said.

“The next step is to go out there,” he said.

Mr. Syversen, at a hearing last month, argued the judge’s order should be nullified on the grounds the county did not properly serve notice.

However, Judge Merrell ruled the county met its statutory requirement by mailing a copy of the order to a post office box provided as the address for the “Robert Rustad Syversen estate” in a warranty deed filed in the county clerk’s office in December 2011.

While estates are regularly established when someone dies, Mr. Syversen apparently set up that one in an attempt to avoid personal liability in purchasing the old school building.

Judge Merrell noted Mr. Syversen had previously made a court appearance in August and, at that time, made no motion of defective service.

“Instead, the Defendant chose to engage in legal chicanery by concealing his identity,” the judge wrote.

Mr. Syversen, who in 2010 filed paperwork at the county clerk’s office indicating he is not a U.S. citizen or subject to governmental authority, referred to himself at the most recent court hearing only as “a party with an equitable interest in the matter.”

Judge Merrell’s decision was personally served to Mr. Syversen last week at the county Public Safety Building on outer Stowe Street, according to court filings.

The 16,032-square-foot former school, built in 1927, temporarily housed some businesses shortly after its closure but has had little use in recent years.

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