A couple bought a $2 million home in New York occupied by a squatter who found loopholes in the law and won't leave

  • Joseph and Susana Landa purchased a $2 million home in Queens, New York in October 2023.

  • The couple hasn't moved in yet because a man is squatting on the property.

  • The Landas have sued the man to evict him. And he has sued the couple for harassment.

A couple who purchased a $2 million home thought they'd be surrounded by family and taking care of their son with Down Syndrome, but a squatter upended their dream.

The ongoing legal battle between the couple — Joseph and Susana Landa — and Brett Flores began late last year in the idyllic Douglaston neighborhood of Queens, New York.

Photo shows Douglastown in Queens, New York.
Photo shows Douglastown in Queens, New York.Google Maps

Although court documents viewed by Business Insider showed the Landas bought the entire lot in October 2023, they soon discovered that Flores occupied the home and refused to vacate. It's been five months, and the Landas have not moved into the house.

Flores, however, has a different take. Flores said he had permission to remain in the home from the previous owner, whom he took care of until their death in January 2023, according to WABC 7, the ABC affiliate in New York, which first broke the news.

Representatives for Flores did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BI. And representatives for Joseph and Susana Landa said they had no comment.

Here's everything we know about the real estate drama.

Flores lived in the Douglaston home with the previous owner until January 2023

Court documents viewed by BI showed that the three-bedroom, four-bathroom home previously belonged to Bernard Fernandez. Flores earned $3,000 a week taking care of a then-elderly Fernandez before he died in January 2023, according to WABC 7.

Following Fernandez's death, Flores remained on the premises, even after the Bernard Fernandez 2009 Revocable Trust claimed the house, according to court documents.

The home was later sold to the Landa family by the new trustee, Joseph Russo, for $2 million, according to court documents. Since Flores was still at the house during this time, the Landas were forced to take on the task of evicting him.

The Landa family attempted to move in but couldn't because of a loophole in New York City's squatters' rights laws.

The Landas told WABC 7 that they purchased the home because it's right next door to family members.

"We're looking to hopefully retire and most of all provide for my son Alex, who has Down Syndrome," Susana told the outlet.

However, discovering Flores squatting inside the home upended their plans. Joseph called the situation "a total nightmare."

New York City, of which Queens is a part, has some of the strongest laws in the country protecting squatters. Anyone who lives at a residence for more than 30 days is considered a tenant and is granted temporary rights.

"To reclaim property from a squatter after 30 days, an owner must be able to prove a right to the property and proceed with legal eviction proceedings," according to The New York State Senate.

This is where the Landas have faced hurdles.

The couple told WABC 7 that they've had five hearings, but the process keeps getting delayed. Flores once arrived in court without an attorney. Then he delayed the process by filing for bankruptcy. New York City law states that once a tenant files for bankruptcy, a landlord cannot continue "to obtain possession or enforce judgment" until the bankruptcy case is resolved.

"If you have no lease and you're not paying rent, what is you right?" Joseph told the outlet.

The Landas told the New York Post in February they gave Flores 10 days to leave, but when they and an insurance inspector tried to enter the home, Flores called the police.

The Landas said Flores is renting out rooms in the meantime and they're being forced to pay his utility bills

The Landas said that while the legal battle continues, Flores has listed the home online as a rental, offering one room dubbed the "Prince Room" for $50 per night, according to the New York Post.

The couple also said they were now stuck paying Flores' utility bills, which they estimated to be "thousands of dollars."

"It makes me feel completely forgotten in this legal system, unfair, and not able to do anything," Joseph told WABC 7.

Flores has countersued the Landa family, who've hired security for the home this month

The Landa family hired security to watch the home amid the legal proceedings. The security guard told The Daily Mail that he sympathized with the Landa family, whom he called "good people."

"It is a shame what is going on," they added.

After the Landa family sued Flores, he countersued them for what he called harassment, WABC 7 reported earlier this month.

Flores' attorney, Dennis O'Sullivan, told the local Fox affiliate the Landa family was using intimidating tactics against Flores.

The Landas attorney, Anthony Mordente, meanwhile, told the outlet that Flores asked the family to pay him money if they wanted him to leave, but that they declined.

Separately, court documents showed that Flores — also known as Brett Fisher — was arrested in December 2023 for assault and harassment charges. Flores pushed, picked up, and threw his wife, WABC 7 reported.

Its unclear if Flores lives with the wife, with whom a source told the New York Post he shares a young child. The source, who declined to say whether she was a friend or family of Flores, told the outlet they're unsure if the wife and child lived at the residence.

The source said that the baby is on a ventilator.

Flores' attorney says a "revelation" will change the course of the case

When Flores and his attorney arrived earlier this month at the Queens County Civil Court, a judge requested they provide audio recordings to support Flores' legal claim to the home, WABC 7 reported.

The judge gave Flores and O'Sullivan one week to produce the audio recordings.

During the hearing, O'Sullivan said he'd been retained just hours before the hearing and required more prep time, according to the outlet. When asked why Flores hadn't produced the audio recordings or hired an attorney before this hearing, O'Sullivan said Flores has "a newborn child with respiratory issues."

"A revelation will turn this narrative on its head," O'Sullivan told WABC 7. "The homeowners, the Landas, are not victims in this case."

The next hearing is scheduled for April.

Read the original article on Business Insider