NHP squatters lived in residence five minutes from Brussel Drive: Cops

NHP squatters lived in residence five minutes from Brussel Drive: Cops
The formerly abandoned house on Brussel Drive in New Hyde Park that neighbors say is occupied by squatters. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Jacobs)

The couple accused of illegally occupying 39 Brussel Drive in New Hyde Park had been staying at a different residence in 2022 just a five-minute drive away, Sgt. Richard Soto, a Nassau County police officer and expert on illegal occupancy and evictions, told a community meeting last week.

An issue top of mind for many local residents is illegal occupancy, of which there are at least three incidents in New Hyde Park, according to Councilwoman Christine Liu, who represents the 4th Council District and assumed the position in January.

“This is why I am working overtime, because I have inherited a lot of things,” said Liu. “I think all these things, probably 90% of what I’m dealing with, should have been resolved before I came to office.”

Soto illustrated the nuance involved in illegal occupancy at a Lakeville Estates Civic Association meeting Wednesday.

“I could be here for hours. Hours,” said Soto. “Because every [squatter] situation is unique.”

Soto said that misconceptions around squatter issues further complicate legal eviction processes, just like the case concerning 39 Brussel Drive. He said illegal occupants can be split into two groups: “legal squatters” and “illegal squatters.”

For example, when a tenant stops paying their rent but continues living in the residence, they are a “legal squatter,” said Soto, if the tenant did not commit a crime to gain access to the property like breaking into an apartment.

When an individual breaks into a residence, they are at the property illegally as an “illegal squatter,” said Soto. In that case, police officers simply need the residence owner’s involvement in order to evict the squatter, the officer said.

However, in an instance where an individual breaks into a residence and the owner of the residence refuses help from the police or knowingly continues to allow the individual to live in the residence, that individual is now a “legal squatter” and police officers cannot simply evict the squatter, said Soto. The process must now go through landlord-tenant court.

Now take this analogy and apply it to the alleged illegal occupancy issue at 39 Brussel Drive.

Prior to Margaret Grover, 19, and Denton Gayle, 29, taking up residence on Brussel Drive, the couple legally rented an apartment at 1030 Maple Lane in 2022, according to Soto, who first referred to the street as Maple Avenue.

Eventually, Grover and Gayle stopped paying their rent at Maple Lane, said Soto. He said the owner of the property was unsure of how to proceed; she contemplated taking the couple to landlord-tenant court, but assumed it would be a large expense.

But before the owner had to make a decision, Grover and Gayle informed her they were moving out, said Soto, at which point the couple moved into the Brussel Drive home in 2023.

The property at 1030 Maple Lane is currently undergoing construction because of a leak in the building, said Soto. During this construction, Grover and Gayle went back to Maple Lane and told the owner that they are still living at her property and cannot be kicked out because they have a signed lease through 2024.

“Basically, because she’s letting them still in [to the property], we have a problem,” said Soto. “I’m not saying that they can’t be arrested. These are all gray areas that haven’t been dealt with.”

Grover and Gayle first moved in to the home at 39 Brussel Drive, which was foreclosed in 2013, in August. The couple brought along their baby, dog and Porsche Cayenne.

For months, neighbors have faced a legal gridlock concerning the illegal occupancy at 39 Brussel Drive in New Hyde Park.

Neighbors won a small victory on March 6 when Nassau County District Judge Christopher Coschignano ordered the squatters to be evicted. However, since the warrant of eviction has not yet been provided to police, cops are unable to evict the squatters, neighbor Al Moline said.

The town said it is giving the bank 90 days to finish the foreclosure. If not done, they said they will take over the property using the state’s Zombie law, which permits municipalities to inspect, secure and maintain vacant and abandoned properties.

The town said it would also pay for the commercial movers and 30 days of storage required for the eviction. This is a necessary requirement before police can move forward with an eviction.

The residents of Brussel Drive say the quatters have created an unsafe environment, one the residents’ have been living with for months.

“We lose sleep over this because now we’re so nervous, we’re so scared, especially for our kids,” Jacob said after several run-ins between the unwanted newcomers and residents.

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