By COLlive reporter
A home occupation scam occurring in the Crown Heights neighborhood in recent months has been causing much heartache for local homeowners.
The scam perpetrators target vacant apartments and houses, under construction or up for sale and rent. They illegally settle in and then extort money from the owners to vacate.
The most recent incident occurred on Wednesday afternoon of Chol Hamoed Sukkos, when a Jewish homeowner whose home is under construction received a phone call from a neighbor that there were individuals seen inside the home.
Knowing that the house was not being worked on at the time, the owner quickly called Shmira safety patrol for assistance, alerting them that intruders had broken into his home.
Within minutes, Shmira and NYPD officers arrived at the home, and found a 27-year-old black male who had broken the locks and had entered the home.
When the NYPD questioned him, he produced a fake “Lease”, which he claimed he had been given by an agent, and had rented the entire home, the home’s owner told COLlive.com.
The lease was dated 5 weeks before, so that he could claim he had been living in the home for over 30 days, which is the amount of time needed for squatter’s rights in New York.
The owner explained to the Police officers that he had not rented the home to anyone, and searching the home, found that there was no evidence that he had been living there.
“Thank G-d, I was alerted to the break-in almost immediately, so he could not try to convince the police that he had been living in the home for any amount of time,” the homeowner told COLlive.
“Had he been able to bring a bed or other belongings, the police might have believed his scam.”
The ordeal wasn’t over for the homeowner who asked to remain unnamed. He was required to appear in court to fight the claims of the intruder, who still claimed he rented the apartment through Craig’s List, and that he had a lease for $2,200 for the entire house.
“The judge nearly believed his story,” the homeowner said. “He claimed he had paid cash in advance, and now he had nowhere to go. Thankfully, I was able to prove that due to some violations in the house a year ago, we had been served with eviction notices, and the house was not allowed to be lived in until everything was brought up to code. How could I have rented out the home?”
The NYPD warns Crown Heights residents to be aware of the scam, as many homeowners don’t check up on the home for extensive amounts of time while they are undergoing renovations.
What the scammers will do, officers said, is change the locks and move in, and then it’s much more difficult to convince a judge that they aren’t the victim, especially if there is evidence of personal effects which indicate they have been living in the home.
Homeowners should make sure to check up on their property consistently, and have good video cameras to be sure no one is breaking in. Additionally, be aware of mail that is delivered to the home for utilities which have been signed up in other people’s names.
“It’s frightening to think that if he had been in the house even for a few days, he would’ve been able to prove he was living in the home, and the judge would’ve probably told him to return to the home for now, until this could be sorted out in court,” the homeowner said. “He could’ve lived in the home for months, or extorted a large amount of money from me in order to leave. I urge all homeowners to be extremely vigilant about their property so that this doesn’t happen to you,” he said.