PROSPECT HEIGHTS — A co-op apartment owner is suing the niece of a longtime tenant for successfully duping the owner and the building's board for four years after the tenant's death in order to keep living in the deceased woman's dirt-cheap apartment, according to reports.
The NY Daily News reported on the alleged scam Friday, though the deception was uncovered in 2010 when the building's president and a plumber went in to the apartment to fix a leak, only to find the occupant, Brenda Williams, 55, had been consistently lying about the failing health of her aunt, Debbie Vaughan, who was 93 when she died in 2007, the story said.
Over the years, Williams went to extremes to hide her aunt's death from neighbors — from sending the monthly $287 rent payments by money order written in Vaughan's name, to supplying a volley of excuses if anyone stopped by to check on the elderly woman.
"Williams claimed 'her aunt was paranoid and senile and if we knocked on the door, she would have a heart attack,' said the co-op board’s president, Diana Hansen-Young," the NY Post reported.
After the plumbing incident, in which the board president saw an empty bedroom and a pile of unopened mail where the older woman was supposed to have been living, the owner of the 550-square-foot unit checked death records, and found that Vaughan had died, the Post wrote.
Williams, who works for the city a school improvement specialist in the Department of Education, had reportedly told the unit's owner that she was living with her aging aunt to help with cooking and household chores, the suit, filed March 20, says. The owner had been keeping rent low in the unit, which features exposed brick and hardwood floors, because of the woman's health and age, the Post wrote.
Vaughan had moved into the building in 1959, and last saw a rent hike in 1985, the News reported. The co-op board is also suing Williams, claiming her alleged swindle has cost the building $135,000 in rental income, the paper reported.