New York City officials finally pried their way inside an infamous junk-filled townhouse at 312 East 86th Street this week, thanks to a court order. But still no glimpse of owner Phyllis Battista, one of the city’s most cussed and discussed hoarders.
Battista rates her own category — she’s neither a bad landlord nor a bad tenant. But she is a bad neighbor. Residents on her block have long complained about the house’s heaped-up trash, DNA.info’s Amy Zimmer reports.
Construction work on the Second Avenue Subway line prompted the court order — workers need to check the structural soundness of it and other buildings in the area. As Zimmer says:
The owner, Phyllis Battista, is notorious for her morning routine of yelling at people while sweeping the sidewalk and then dumping trash — which has, at times, included pigeon and dog feces — in front of the storefronts on this block between Second and First avenues, neighbors say.
But she’s remained an enigma for the more than three decades she’s been there. As stuff has piled up in front — and inside — rumors spread about Battista living in a nearby shelter. She’s been spotted only a few times on the steps with her broom since the winter.
On Wednesday morning, passersby got a rare glimpse of the hoarding nightmare her house has become.
Police officers in protective gear went inside to look for Battista, struggling for more than an hour to gain access. They left the front door slightly ajar, revealing a massive pile of clothes.
Battista would probably qualify for a spot on A&E’s Hoarders, but her behavior doesn’t rise to the level of the city’s most famous hoarders, the Collyer brothers. In 1947, workers found the bodies of Langley and Homer Collyer amid 130 tons of junk and garbage inside their Harlem brownstone.
The situation around Battista’s townhouse was bad enough to affect her neighbors. Over the summer, after some people on the block claimed to have seen rats scurrying around the heaped-up trash and household items in front of her place, the East 86th Street Neighborhood Network civic coalition pressured local politicians, and Health Department inspectors were dispatched. They apparently found no rodent problem, but issued violations for the discarded boxes, containers, and debris on the property.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 18, 2011