Squatters rights: Local and state lawmakers push for change in NY

Thursday, March 28, 2024
How to protect your homes and keep squatters out
Dan Krauth and Nina Pineda have tips on how to protest your homes in an effort to keep squatters out.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- After two 7 On Your Side Investigations into squatting went viral, there has been a growing push from city and state lawmakers to change the law.

In New York, squatters have rights after 30 days. It's written in the law that squatters have to be taken to court, making it difficult for police to have the authority to remove them.

Since Eyewitness News first aired the story of Adele Andalaroo last week, the charge of unlawful eviction against her has been dropped. Our cameras were rolling when she was arrested for changing the locks on her front door to prevent squatters from getting inside. One of the men living inside the home she inherited claimed to have a lease but didn't show proof.

Nina Pineda and Dan Krauth have the latest on squatters taking over homes and how to prevent it.

"When they put those handcuffs on her, it was like someone punched me in the stomach," said Ann Korchak with the group Small Property Owners of New York. "This is an injustice," she said.

"The only thing they can do is hire an attorney and start the process," said Korchak.

That's what the Landa family had to do. They bought a $2 million home in Douglaston, Queens in October and haven't been able to move in. The caretaker of the former homeowner refuses to leave. An attorney for the former caretaker said he didn't want to comment on the case. More than six months later, they're still in court.

"So our hands are tied," Susana Landa said. "Our hands are tied with the law."

Eyewitness News has received dozens of messages from homeowners who say they're in a similar situation. One viewer said they've had a squatter since 2019, another said it took them 25 months to get squatters out of their home.

"I mean millions and millions of people have looked at your video and look at this and say how can this be happening, it's upside down," said Korchak.

Our 7 On Your Side Investigation sparked a New York City councilmember to hold a rally, calling for change to local and state laws.

"You think we're at a bad place now, it can and will get worse," said NYC Councilwoman Vickie Paladino at a rally in Bayside, Queens this week. "All it takes is for an illegal squatter to say I have been here for 30 days and you know what, he has no proof."

State law is set up in a way where it's difficult for police to intervene. Homeowners have to take squatters to court, which can take years for a resolution.

Assemblyman Jake Blumencranz filed a bill that would change that. It has gained support since our investigation first aired.

"It will make it so that someone who's trespassing, someone who is simply on the property as a squatter, will not be listed as a tenant with the law," said Blumencranz. "They'd be simply a trespasser and law enforcement can do their job and remove a trespasser but they can't remove a tenant."

It's not just a problem in New York but nationwide. Lawmakers in Florida passed a similar new law this month.

"I wouldn't have known about it if I wouldn't have seen articles like yours and news releases like yours," said Senator Keith Perry. "This shouldn't be a civil matter, these are criminal matters and we're taking that into account."

In New York, lawmakers tried to change the law a decade ago and failed.

ALSO READ | Squatter standoff captured on camera in Queens: 7 On Your Side Investigates

Dan Krauth has more in this 7 On Your Side Investigates squatting story.

7 On Your Side's tips for homeowners

Experts say certain steps can be taken for homeowners who have a second home, are in the process of selling a home, or even those who will be away for an extended period of time.

The key to defending yourself in a squatting case is proving they shouldn't be there to begin with. Also, if you know you are leaving your property unattended for an extended time, report it to police beforehand.

Then invest in security and doorbell cameras. Homeowners can buy systems with multiple cameras for around $300 to position both in and outside the property. Make sure they are motion-activated too.

Some Ring cameras have flood lights that turn on when they detect movement and can cost less than $150.

Once you buy the hardware, keep in mind video recording and storage may come with monthly fees -- especially if you want to keep the video for longer than a month.

Next, post a "No Trespassing" sign on your front door. Make sure to take a time-stamped picture of the sign because the trick is to be able to prove to police that the sign was there before the squatters moved in -- which is also why the security camera video is important.

If you can show squatters broke in or entered illegally, you have helped take away their squatter rights.

The goal is to prove the house is supposed to be empty -- not only will these steps help your case, but they can also help deter squatters from targeting your home.

And if you have friends or family in the area of your property, ask them to drive by and report anything suspicious -- like a car in the driveway or a light on and off. They shouldn't confront anyone -- they should just let the homeowner know so they can alert authorities.

ALSO READ | Bill filed to prevent squatters from having rights in New York

Investigative Reporter Dan Krauth speaks to officials about the squatting loophole.



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