Homeowners score legal victory over squatters in New York after ‘optics’ of landlord handcuffed in $1M home heist pushed lawmakers ‘over the finish line’

The “optics” of a homeowner handcuffed after changing the locks on a squatter in her Queens home worth $1 million pushed New York lawmakers to enact a harsh new law to protect property owners, a real estate attorney told Fox News Digital.

A portion of New York’s 2024 state budget agreement, signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul Monday, specifically excludes squatters from tenant protections under state law. 

The language defines a squatter as someone staying on a property without permission from its owner or the owner’s representative.

This wording, lawmakers said, will make it easier for police to intervene in squatting cases, sparing homeowners months or even years in housing court.

Real estate lawyer Michael Romer told Fox News Digital the case of Brian Rodriguez pushed lawmakers “over the finish line” to pass anti-squatter legislation.

Rodriguez had allegedly commandeered and subletted a home in Queens and summoned police to detain owner Adele Andaloro after she tried to change the locks.

“I think this is what pushed it over the finish line, the investigation surrounding this case and the media surrounding this case. The optics of a homeowner being taken from their own home in handcuffs. That picture is what inspired Albany to act earlier today,” Romer said.

“If somebody was effectively squatting or staying in a property that didn’t belong to them and that happened for at least 30 days, then according to the prior laws, that squatter would effectively be considered a tenant and would have to be evicted in the court system,” Romer explained. “What this bill change effectively does is it changes the definition as to what a squatter is and no longer affords them tenant’s rights.

“It’s a game changer.” 

When Rodriguez claimed that he was a legal tenant, police had no choice but to remove Andaloro from the property.  ABC7

Rodriguez, 35, pleaded not guilty to second-degree burglary, fourth-degree grand larceny, fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, second-degree criminal trespass and fourth-degree criminal mischief last week, according to the Queens District Attorney’s office. 

On Feb. 29, the office said, Rodriguez forced his way back into Andaloro’s home after she changed the locks and tried to hold the door closed. When he claimed that he was a legal tenant, police had no choice but to remove Andaloro from the property. 

The subsequent press coverage, Romer said, prompted the district attorney’s office to build a case against the 35-year-old squatter. At least four lawmakers penned legislation to protect homeowners from squatters after his arrest, ABC 7 reported. 

Andaloro was removed from the property but is not facing criminal charges, the Queens District Attorney’s Office told Fox News Digital. 

Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to second-degree burglary, fourth-degree grand larceny, fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, second-degree criminal trespass and fourth-degree criminal mischief. James Keivom

Rodriguez’s arrest followed a series of high-profile squatting incidents covered by Fox News Digital.

One squatter, Cheng Chen, was arrested after allegedly starting the fire that burned a home in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, to the ground earlier this year, causing $900,000 in damage, according to the New York Post.

But even after the 67th Street home became uninhabitable, neighbors said at a rally earlier this month, his fellow squatters took up residence in its backyard.

Owner Zafar Iqbal, 53, told the New York Post he was left powerless by the squatters who “have more rights” than homeowners. He continues to try to refurbish the property, but the unwelcome guests just “keep coming back.” 

At least four lawmakers penned legislation to protect homeowners from squatters after Rodriguez’s arrest. Paul Martinka

“I got a call from the fire department that the house is burnt out. Somebody got in there and torched my house,” he said. “That’s when I found out it was a squatter living there. The squatters have more rights than the homeowners. I’m the owner of the house. How much more can I do? I need help.”

Romer told Fox News Digital he has seen an “uptick” in instances of squatting complaints from clients compared to his earlier 20 years practicing real estate law. 

State Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton said “no one should return home to find their property seized by squatters, who now have more rights on their property than they do.

“For too long, my constituents have grappled with the current reality where individuals unlawfully occupy their spaces without any recourse. We witness distressing scenarios unfold in the news week after week — hardworking homeowners facing legal repercussions for rightfully reclaiming their own property from individuals who brazenly occupy it without consent.” 

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