When a Bronx woman discovered a squatter living in her building, she thought all she’d have to do was call the police and the man would be removed. Thanks to New York City housing laws, however, it doesn’t look like this squatter is going anywhere any time soon.
Maria Diaz and her daughter, Elizabeth Tineo, discovered 35-year-old cab driver Clark Eli-Selassie living in their Kingsbridge home last May. The house, which 62-year-old Diaz bought as an investment property in 2006, was put up for sale in 2013 as part of a foreclosure.
Tineo, who caught Selassie sitting shirtless in the kitchen when she went to the house for a building inspection, immediately called the police when she made the startling discovery. According to the New York Daily News, Tineo should never have placed that phone call.
Selassie subsequently went to housing court and claimed that he was being illegally evicted, explaining that he was scammed by a man who claimed to be the landlord, rented him the house, took Selassie’s money and then “disappeared.”
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City housing law, which requires landlords to “initiate lengthy eviction proceedings” if a squatter can prove they’d been living in a house for more than 30 days, has allowed Selassie to remain in the house until police get a court order to evict him. “It’s a crime in New York to immediately evict someone,” West Bronx Housing and Neighborhood Resource Center Executive Director Sally Dunford explained.
Diaz, according to reports, made another serious mistake in her attempt to remove Selassie from her building. The 62-year-old business owner filed a countersuit against the man, claiming that she was the one being locked out of her property. A judge threw the case out because Diaz “had no legal standing as a resident.”
Thanks to the complicated housing laws, it looks as though Selassie may not have to go anywhere for quite a while. “He can probably celebrate next Christmas there, too,” Adam Leitman Bailey, a lawyer who specializes in cases such as these, told the Daily News.
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Diaz revealed that she might have to file for bankruptcy and lose her restaurant, El Azteca, if she doesn’t sell the building before the bank takes it. Despite the urgency on the landlord’s part, her “tenant” doesn’t seem to be ready to move out just yet.
“I’m not going to be like those who go into the shelter system,” Selassie said. “I’m not going to sleep in a coat in the train station. For God’s sake: I’m an American citizen!”