In criminal cases, house is not always a home

In criminal cases, house is not always a home

Police Commissioner Tim Sini discusses housing issues happening across the county. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Housing fraud has hit home for some North Shore officials.

During Suffolk County Legislator DuWayne Gregory’s press conference on Monday, fellow legislators, local leaders and county and state officials addressed issues with squatters and unsafe structures cropping up across Long Island.

According to Gregory (D-Amityville), squatters are using foreclosed homes to take advantage of prospective residents looking for an affordable place to live. In many cases, the actual property owners have abandoned the property and some of the homes are becoming safety hazards.

Then there’s the problem of the houses becoming havens for criminal activity.

“A lot of these vacant homes are being used for drug deals,” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. “These vacant homes are a danger in our society.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini added that the homes can also become magnets for prostitution and vandalism.

The neglected houses that become sites for criminal activity are commonly called zombie homes.

According to Sini, in each hamlet on Long Island there are dozens of zombie homes or houses that squatters are illegally renting out to unsuspecting tenants.

“We know homelessness is a major crisis for our veterans, for our seniors, for our working families,” Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said. “When we see someone taking advantage of someone looking to rent or purchase a home, it’s very heinous because a lot of the times, we’re talking about people’s life savings … and this could really disrupt the family.”

Many tenants find the properties through Craigslist or similar websites. During the event, Gregory said a single mother was one of many people scammed when a squatter posed as a property owner and rented out a parcel to her. Although police were unable to arrest that particular squatter before the person fled, officials are working to arrest suspects in such cases.

They are also urging people to report vacant homes in their neighborhood. Those tips can help — according to Anker, the Rocky Point Civic Association keeps track of these homes and has reported more than 70 vacant homes in the area.

“This is happening all over the county. We want to make sure people are aware of what’s going on and that … when you’re going to rent a property, that you do your due diligence,” Gregory said. “There are people out there, unscrupulous people … who take advantage.”

Gregory will host an educational seminar on the issue on Tuesday, March 29, at the Copiague Memorial Library on Deauville Boulevard. The seminar runs from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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