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‘A total nightmare’: This NY couple bought a $2M retirement dream home in Queens — only to find a squatter inside, who they’re now struggling to evict because he's a 'tenant' under the law

‘A total nightmare’: This NY couple bought a $2M retirement dream home in Queens — only to find a squatter inside, who they’re now struggling to evict because he's a 'tenant' under the law
‘A total nightmare’: This NY couple bought a $2M retirement dream home in Queens — only to find a squatter inside, who they’re now struggling to evict because he's a 'tenant' under the law

When Susana and Joseph Landa dropped $2 million on their dream home in Douglastown, Queens, they thought they were laying down roots to live out their golden years in peace.

Sadly, that dream home has already turned into “a total nightmare,” according to Joseph.

When the Landas bought the house in October 2023, they discovered their spacious retirement pad came with an unwanted guest — a squatter by the name of Brett Flores.

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Four months after signing on the dotted line, the senior duo told ABC 7’s “On Your Side” they still hadn’t managed to evict Flores — due to New York’s squatter rights — or move into the property.

“We're looking to hopefully retire and most of all provide for my son Alex, who has Down syndrome,” said Susana, noting that all she can think about is: “When is this guy going to come out?”

Here’s where things currently stand in the squatter saga — plus some alternative ways to invest in real estate if this “nightmare” puts you off home buying altogether.

‘Unfair’ squatter rights

The Landas have taken Flores, aged 32, to landlord-tenant court to try and get him evicted — but five hearings in civil court later and the couple are yet to achieve that goal.

According to court documents obtained by "On Your Side,” Flores used to work for the former owner of the Landa’s home as his caretaker until the man passed away in January 2023. Flores was paid $3,000 a week for that work and he claims the previous owner gave him “license” to stay in the house after his death.

Under New York state law, squatters are classified as tenants with rights after living in a property for 30 days. To reclaim property from a squatter, the owners must prove their right to the property and proceed with legal eviction proceedings — which is what the Landas are trying to do, but they’re up against roadblocks and delays.

“If you have no lease and you're not paying rent, what is your right?” Joseph asked, clearly frustrated by the obtuse eviction process and having paid all of the bills (including thousands of dollars in utilities) since buying the home.

“It makes me feel completely forgotten in this legal system, [it’s] unfair and [we’re] not able to do anything,” he added.

“On Your Side” reached out to Flores to get his side of the story but his attorney responded with “no comment.” The Landas hope the issue will finally be resolved in their next court date, scheduled for April, so that they can put this saga to bed and finally enjoy their retirement.

Read more: No landlord? No problem! Explore hassle-free real estate investments

Stress-free ways to invest

If the risk of squatters and the other trials and tribulations of owning a home or being a landlord don’t appeal to you, there are other ways to invest in real estate without all that hassle.

For instance, you can invest in a residential real estate investment trust (REIT). REITs are publicly traded companies that own income-producing real estate like apartment buildings, shopping centers and office towers. They collect rent from tenants and pass that rent to shareholders in the form of regular dividend payments.

Another easy way to invest in real estate is to buy shares in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that give you exposure to a diverse portfolio of real estate assets. Two popular examples are the Vanguard Real Estate ETF (VNQ) and the Estate Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLRE).

You could also consider using an online crowdfunding platform, which allows investors to pool their money together to buy property (or a share of property) — from rental homes to office towers — as a group. These online platforms make real estate investing more accessible by simplifying the process and lowering the barrier to entry.

What’s attractive to some investors about all of these options is that they require very little active management. Once you put money in, you can sit back and watch it grow.

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This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.