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NYC squatters start 2-alarm fire in Brooklyn home after months of terrorizing neighbors

Dozens of firefighters took an hour to extinguish the fire that consumed a Brooklyn, N.Y., house fire started by squatters on November 29. Credit: LLN NYC

New York City politicians are pushing for revised laws after a crew of squatters punctuated a months-long terror campaign against their neighbors by burning a house to the ground last November. 

“It was a very quiet neighborhood before and then suddenly when it happened, those people break into the house,” Ming Zhu, who lives two houses down from the razed Brooklyn home, said at a Thursday press conference.

Residents say the cadre of squatters took up residence in the Dyker Heights neighborhood over the summer and quickly made themselves known by stealing security cameras and other goods from surrounding houses – and directly threatening neighbors.

Cheng Chen, 46, was charged with arson and criminal mischief after the Nov. 29 fire at 1237 67th Street last year – he was saddled with a six-month prison sentence after pleading guilty, according to court records. 


Squatters burned a Brooklyn home

Squatters set fire to a home in Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights on Nov. 29 last year after a months-long campaign of terror against their neighbors, according to local politicians who said loopholes enabling squatters need to be closed. (LLN NYC)

“The fire was caused by candles,” Chen told police, according to a criminal complaint. “I was smoking a cigarette, lit a candle. While I had the stove on to heat up the water and to keep myself warm, [I] went downstairs to take a shower. When I came back, I saw flames and smoke everywhere.”

But the New York City Police Department told Fox News Digital that Chen started the fire “intentionally” and “recklessly.” 

The inferno caused $900,000 in damage, the New York Post reported, and took dozens of firefighters an hour to extinguish, according to ABC 7. 

A spokesperson for NYC Councilwoman Susan Zhuang’s office told Fox News Digital that the rest of those squatters are living in the home’s backyard to this day. 

Firefighters fight Brooklyn blaze

Dozens of firefighters took an hour to put out the blaze, which reportedly caused $900,000 in damage. One squatter, Cheng Chen, was arrested on arson and criminal mischief charges. The other occupants of the home have taken up residence in the razed property’s backyard, neighbors say. (LLN NYC)

In light of the arson and a spate of similar incidents, Zhuang called for revisions to the squatter’s rights laws at a Thursday press conference as fed-up residents held up photos of the burning Brooklyn home. 

“In our neighborhood, we don’t have the Hamptons houses,” she told reporters in Gravesend. “We the people have the small houses. We work hard, check by check.

“They are hardworking families that pay their mortgages from paycheck to paycheck. Meanwhile, squatters enter their home while they are on vacation. People’s lives are turned upside down.” 

Zhuang said she has heard an increasing number of stories of homes and businesses being taken over by squatters in the last several months.

Neighbor Zhu called upon politicians to clarify tenancy laws at the Thursday event: 

“This is New York City, the greatest city in the world – we have to make the city better,” he said. “Why does the city and the state make laws to make those people… to make an easier life for them?… We pay for everything. Those people don’t do nothing and they get it better than us… this is completely out of control.”

Zhu said the squatters at the home broke his $5,000 security camera. Another person living on the block said the squatters regularly stole water from surrounding houses using barrels. 


Squatter burned Brooklyn home

The Dyker Heights home before it burned to the ground in November. Squatter Cheng Chen, who was arrested for arson and criminal mischief, told police a candle started the inferno. (Google Maps)

The incident is just one of the latest squatter nightmares to plague New Yorkers – last month, eight Venezuelan migrants were hauled out of a Bronx home filled with guns and drugs. Many were previously arrested at the southern border and released back into the U.S. and one had a previous rap on a murder charge. 

Also last month, a Manhattan woman was murdered after she surprised two squatters who had taken up residence in her new apartment, police said – her family members found her stuffed inside a duffel bag. 

Lawmakers also called for police and courts to report and track squatting incidents so that it’s possible to know how often they are happening, ABC 7 reported. 

The outlet reported that Thursday’s press conference was one of several rallies centered on the squatting problem, with several held in Queens.


Councilwoman Susan Zhuang at April 4 presser about squatters in Brooklyn

Councilwoman Susan Zhuang, wearing pink, is surrounded by residents holding up photos of the Brooklyn house fire at an April 4 press conference on the city’s squatter problem. (Provided by Councilwoman Susan Zhuang)

Council members on both sides of the aisle have advocated for closing loopholes that favor occupants refusing to leave residences over landlords, the outlet reported. 

Under New York City law, anyone who beds down in a home or apartment for at least 30 days can claim squatter’s rights, even if they broke into the property – it would be up to state legislators to change that.

Assemblyman Jake Blumencranz has written a bill that would make it easier for police to intervene, clarifying the definition of tenant to exclude squatters. 


“We have an affordability crisis, a migrant crisis and a cost of living crisis in New York,” Blumencranz told Fox 5. “People know they can come to New York as a safe harbor, they can receive all kinds of free benefits, and now they know they can use our laws against the residents of New York to their advantage.”

Blumencranz’s proposed bill would allow police to intervene when residents don’t have a lease or proof that they’ve paid rent to live in a home, he said. “All we’re trying to do… is provide the people of New York reassurances that if someone moves into your home and they don’t have proper documentation, they cannot stay there.”

Christina Coulter is a U.S. and World reporter for Fox News Digital. Email story tips to [email protected].

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