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Queens Chronicle

Vacant Howard Beach home is reoccupied

Man staying there says he’s fixing the place, neighbors unconvinced

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Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 10:57 am, Thu May 1, 2014.

The unkempt lawn and a sign on the front door are the only signs that anything may be wrong with the house at 162-38 90 St. But what’s inside the home has neighbors very concerned.

Residents who live in the area have complained that squatters are living in the vacant house and are worried about the possible effect on the community’s quality of life.

Police and neighbors are calling him a squatter, but the man who is living in the house, identifying himself only as Peter, rejects that designation.

“I’m not a squatter,” he said. “I’m cleaning the place up. I suppose whoever owns it will want to rent it one day.”

Peter said he has lived in the home since last year. He described it as “a hot mess” when he got there.

The home was owned by Isaac Khafizov, who was convicted in 2012 of federal mail and wire fraud charges connected to a mortgage scheme. He is currently serving a nine-year sentence in a federal prison.

Neighbors, none of whom wanted to be identified, said the house has been vacant since at least 2012. One resident who lives several doors away says it was vacant earlier than that. The home is in foreclosure and the entity that holds the deed is based in Florida.

News of squatters possibly living in the house created more concern for the neighborhood, still reeling from a string of home burglaries and car thefts in March.

“I heard about the home invasions and cars being stolen in the area,” Peter explained, noting that he has recently brought friends over to help him fix the house. “I get that people are afraid because of that, but I work 13 hours a day, I don’t have time for any of that.”

He said he works at his construction job in the city during the day and in the evenings and on the weekends he works in the house.

But police weren’t buying it. In a message to members of the community last week, Deputy Inspector Jeffrey Schiff, the commanding officer of the 106th Precinct, said cops have arrested an individual at the house, and the FDNY declared the building had a number of fire code violations and was a fire hazard. As a result, Schiff said the FDNY has recommended to the Department of Buildings that the house be completely boarded up.

The DOB visited the building last Tuesday and cops removed the people inside, but did not seal it up. The house was reoccupied the next day.

Peter said he feels he is being “harassed” by the cops and city agencies, as well as residents themselves.

“They say things like ‘your kind isn’t welcome here,’” Peter, who is darker-skinned, said. “People have been saying there are kids in the house, there’s mold. There’s no kids and no mold.”

Schiff said cops were patrolling the area to make sure no one stays in the house and arrested someone there Friday night.

Residents who live near the house were unmoved by news that the occupier of the home says he’s only there to fix the place.

“Bottom line is he doesn’t belong there, it’s not his house. If he wants to buy it, fine, but he can’t live there like this,” said one neighbor. “We want him out.”

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