Since moving into his home on Park Lane South in Richmond Hill 28 years ago, Dan Seaman notes that his neighborhood had been relatively peaceful.
“It was a pretty quiet place, no problems,” he said.
That changed around November, when an abandoned neighborhood home on the block, 102-16, began attracting squatters, teens and other individuals in what has become a problem for residents.
“What’s going on right now is really very unusual for this neighborhood,” Seaman said.
Since that time, neighbors have seen several instances of shouting, loud arguments, marijuana smoke, and cars coming and going from the abandoned home frequently.
Just as recently as last week, Seaman told The Forum, he had observed a pair of teens, a boy and a girl, with hoods on and looking ‘very suspicious’ entering the home late at night.
“For all we know, they could be using the place to have drugs and sex,” he said. “I called up 911, and spoke to other neighbors, and they hadn’t seen the police come by.”
According to city records, since 1998, the property has changed hands 17 times, at one point taken over by the U.S. Attorney’s office, before Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., mortgaged the house in 2007 to HSBC Bank, which was acting as a trustee. A deed for the home was then issued from attorney Richard Lunenfeld to HSBC Bank on Nov. 10, 2009.
In December, following another incident at the home that warranted a police visit, Seaman had tried to contact staff at the HSBC Bank branch in Forest Hills. However, he was told by the branch’s service manager that they could not help him.
“His first reaction was to explain that HSBC has so many foreclosures that they will not do anything to evict these squatters,” he said. After persuading the manager to provide some help, Seaman was told to contact HSBC’s Property Trust and Property Protection Team branches, which he called several times; he never heard back from them.
He then spoke with the city’s Buildings Department, but he was told that “it wasn’t their problem; it’s a private house so they weren’t going to do anything about it.”
Seaman had also been in contact with representatives from Assemblyman Michael Miller and city Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office, but was informed by Miller’s office that the most that they could do was issue a partial order of eviction.
“Who do you serve that to? These people who are squatting here are not coming there all the time,” Seaman said. “They just come on Friday nights…so you don’t have regular faces, you just see different young [people].”
The longtime resident, who was asked by neighbors to look into having the home closed, said he feels frustrated at hitting dead ends over who to call to take action on the abandoned home.
“Me and my neighbors, we feel trapped,” Seaman said.
HSBC spokesman Neil Brazil told The Forum that while HSBC was listed on city records as the owner, they had actually acted as a trustee for Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, a West Palm Beach, Fla. group of investors that own the Park Lane South home.
According to Brazil, HSBC was acting as a trustee for the company that owns the home, and under residential mortgage backed securitizations agreements, which govern what trustees and other parties involved in the transaction can do on the property, the servicers for each transaction, in this case Ocwen, are responsible for tending to the property.
This means, Brazil explained, that HSBC plays a ‘nominal’ role in managing the property.
“HSBC abides by the terms of the documents that govern RMBS agreements,” Brazil said. “If concerns are brought to our attention we will communicate those to the servicer who has obligations to address them.”
Representatives at Ocwen Loan Servicing’s offices were reached for comment, but had not returned messages as of press time. Calls to the city’s Buildings Department for comment were also not returned.
When a group of Park Lane South neighbors brought this issue to the attention of police at the 102nd Precinct Community Council meeting Jan. 17, Capt. Martin Briffa of the 102nd Precinct said after the meeting that he was only recently made aware of the complaints regarding the home.
While police could not simply arrest people for squatting at a property, Briffa said that he would be speaking with the precinct’s narcotics unit about paying closer attention to the home.
Seaman— admittedly a novice when it comes to local politics and civic matters—said that he was reluctant to get involved in a public manner, but after Dolly Chavez, a neighbor, told Seaman that several of the people at one point were giving her daughter “staring leers,” he felt he had to step in.
“Queens is an interesting place, but you don’t like to see this stuff happening,” he said.
By Jean-Paul Salamanca
Photo Courtesy of Dan Seaman