‘Absurd’: Owners sued by squatters living in $1.4 million home

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A pair of alleged squatters accused of unlawfully moving into a Queens duplex are suing its rightful owners after refusing to vacate the $1.4 million ($US930,000) home.

It’s the latest logic-defying chapter in the ongoing squatter saga in the borough, which in recent weeks has seen multiple homes occupied by unwelcome invaders who claim rights to the properties under New York City’s permissive laws.

The owner of the latest targeted home, Juliya Fulman, has so far racked up more than $6000 (US4000) in legal bills fighting the suit.

“It’s absolutely absurd,” Ms Fulman told The Post on Sunday.

“These people literally broke into my house. It’s not fair to us as homeowners that we are not protected by the city.”

Within the five boroughs of New York City, squatters need only to occupy a property for 30 days before a wide range of legal protections kick in that make it difficult for the owner to evict them.

In a phone call with The Post, Ms Fulman’s husband Denis Kurlyand called the squatters “opportunists”.

“You can’t really even blame them in a way because it’s handed to them on a silver platter,” Mr Denis Kurlyand said.

“Something needs to be done because the issue is getting worse. People are taking advantage of these laws, manipulating the laws, and our hands are tied.

“What did we do? Nothing. We put up a property for rent, and that’s it, now we’re dealing with a nightmare.”

The couple spent $810,000 ($US530,000) renovating the Lakeside Ave investment property in the neighbourhood of Jamaica, and secured tenants for both rental units when their real-estate broker, Ejona Bardhi, discovered March 5 that the locks on the property had been changed.

After determining the lock change was not authorised, Ms Bardhi returned to the home and saw through the window a silhouette of a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and holding a drill, the broker told the Daily Mail.

As Ms Bardhi went to her car to call police, several men emerged from the residence and encircled her car parked in front of the home, she said.

“They were trying to intimidate me,” she said.

When cops arrived, the two alleged squatters, identified by the outlet as Lance Hunt Sr and Rondie L Francis, claimed they had been living there since January but were unable to provide proof.

The men left the home without incident, and Bardhi and the homeowners stated their intention to change the locks. But cops told them they would be arrested if they did.

It wasn’t an empty threat. Just two weeks later, another Queens homeowner, Adele Andaloro, 47, was arrested for changing the locks on her $1.5 million ($US1 million) house in Flushing in an attempt to rid the property of squatters.

Hunt Sr and Francis returned to the property a day later, brandishing what they claimed was a lease agreement signed by Ms Bardhi.

But Ms Fulman and Mr Kurlyand were prepared, presenting officers with ownership documents and time-stamped videos showing the house had been vacant, the homeowners told The Post.

Police then escorted the men from the property, and the owners changed the locks.

Upon entering, the couple found their freshly renovated home marred by the trespassers’ utter disregard for their ill-gotten digs, including scuffed up wood floors, scratches on walls and the smell of marijuana permeating the residence.

What should have been the end of their ordeal was only the beginning, when 10 days later Ms Bardhi was served with court documents notifying her that the men were suing her, the couple and the real-estate company handling the site, Top Nest Properties.

The squatters were granted an emergency lockout hearing March 22 in Queens Civil Court, during which the couple’s lawyer, Rizpah Morrow, asked judge Vijay Kitson for a trial, arguing the men had “perpetrated a fraud”.

Mr Kurlyand said Hunt Sr. and Francis showed up to court with “forged documents” cobbled together from public records documents and hastily photoshopped.

“They found whatever they could and threw it all together. The lease they presented is ridiculous — signed on January 1 and starting January 1,” he said.

Ms Fulman added, “I don’t know how they had the audacity to show up in court.”

The squatters’ lawyer, Dennis Harris, told the outlet that his clients had shown him “enough for me to believe they were living there”, which included a rental application, a lease and text messages.

The next scheduled court date is April 5. When the couple asked Judge Kitson if in the meantime they could proceed with letting their tenants move in, he said doing so before the matter is adjourned could complicate things further.

“The court system is not favourable to landlords,” Mr Kurlyand said. “It could take years to evict someone who illegally broke into your house? Where’s the law in that? Why work hard to pay rent or mortgages when you can break into somebody’s house every couple of years and have luxury living?”

Despite making some progress toward resolving the matter, Mr Kurlyand said it is still “scary” to have the ultimate decision out of his hands.

“As in any courtroom, you never know which way it’s gonna go. It’s scary — if the judge decides for whatever reason to rule against us that day, even if we have evidence, there’s nothing we can do at the end of the day — we still have to fight in court,” he said.

“Somebody broke into my house, and I’m in court getting sued by them. How can we be here? How is this possible? There have to be safety precautions in place,” he said.

This story was published by the New York Post and reproduced with permission

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