Not only did Ozell Neely collect $2,200 a month in rent on a house Nassau prosecutors contend he didn’t own, but they say he also tried to evict a tenant when the woman stopped paying in a dispute over whether promised repairs had been made.
Neely’s attorney argues that his client acted like a landlord and sought the eviction because he is the rightful owner, having bought the property in a foreclosure proceeding.
Neely, the 47-year-old operator of Welcome Home Realty in Queens, was arrested Tuesday on burglary, grand larceny and other charges after prosecutors say he rented out the abandoned home in Baldwin that he didn’t own. He faces a maximum of seven years in prison if convicted.
“His crime does not rank up there with the most sophisticated, and it certainly wasn’t the most clever real estate fraud we have seen,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a statement. “But for a brief period in time, it worked and he profited.”
Rice said that Neely took a prospective tenant to the boarded-up home in September 2008. He told the woman, whom prosecutors have not identified, that he had lost the key to the home, then tore down boards and cut through a chain link fence to get inside.
And despite the house having no refrigerator, no running water and warped doors, the tenant — looking for a home in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets — agreed to pay $2,200 a month in rent, as long as Neely repaired the damages, prosecutors said.
Neely collected more than $10,000 over the next few months, but in April 2009, the tenant stopped paying rent, claiming Neely had reneged on the repairs, prosecutors said.
That’s when Neely had his attorney file several “Notices of Petition for Non-Payment” against the tenant. It is not clear whether any of the notices were received, but the tenant remained for several more months.
In June, a person claiming to be the property’s real owner got a tip that someone was living there. He spoke to the tenant, who moved out a month later, then referred the case to prosecutors.
Defense attorney Brian Griffin counters that Neely “believes he is the true owner of this home.” Griffin did not provide specifics but said his client “attended a closing at an attorney’s office and bought the house,” which was in foreclosure.
Griffin said Neely’s actions are “consistent with that of an owner.” He said Neely did make repairs, “and when his tenant defaulted, he did what any landlord woud do” — take them to court.
“It appears the DA is dealing with a case of multiple claims of ownership,” Griffin said.