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Tony Town House in Kips Bay Has Become a Refuge for Squatters, Lawsuit Says

By James Fanelli | February 12, 2014 6:52am
 An uninhabited Kips Bay townhouse has been a refuge for squatters, court records say.
Lawyer Claims Squatters Using Million-Dollar Townhouse
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KIPS BAY — An uninhabited multimillion-dollar town house that’s at the center of a legal battle has become a hot spot for squatters, court records charge.

Neighbors of the four-story home on tony East 29th Street in Kips Bay say squatters have been living in its front yard and basement, openly defecating and littering in the area  — and even lighting a fire in the building, according to court records.

Dermatologist Dr. Gerald Arthur owned the prime real estate from 1967 until he died at 82 in 2011.

Lawyer Jo Anne Simon claims that, three years before his death, she prepared the paperwork in which Arthur placed the town house in a trust, with instructions that she sell it when he died and give the proceeds to charities. 

But Arthur’s much younger live-in partner, David Reyes, refuses to hand over the keys to the town house and claims he was supposed to inherit the home. He is suing Simon, accusing her of tricking Arthur into giving her power of attorney and getting him to sign papers that placed the trust in her control.

Simon says she’s just following Arthur’s wishes and asked Manhattan Surrogate’s Court on Monday to give her control of the town house so she can sell it.

After Arthur’s death, Reyes lived in the home for two years, but hasn’t stayed in it since April 2013, when he went to a hospital for a medical procedure, Simon says. In Reyes’ absence, the town house fell into shambles and squatters seized the opportunity to make themselves at home, she claims.

“If the court does not allow Simon to secure the premises, there is a greater likelihood that the squatters will remain and create unsafe and unsanitary conditions further endangering the town house and adjoining properties and the safety and health of the neighbors,” Simon’s court papers say.

When Reyes left in April, he accidentally flooded the home by leaving a top-floor faucet running, according to Simon’s court papers.

The lawyer claims 90,000 gallons of water poured through the townhouse, damaging furniture and causing a mold problem that also plagued the home of the next-door neighbor, a German national who works at the United Nations.

Simons said she spent $50,000 to fix the mold issue, but since June she has not been permitted to enter the home, even though additional repairs are necessary.

In September homeless squatters who had settled in the town house’s front yard and basement set fire to the building, and firefighters were called to extinguish the flames, according to Simon’s court papers.

A month later, mice overran the building, and the rodents entered the living room of the neighboring adjoining townhouse.

“Reyes has demonstrated that he will not maintain the town house in a safe condition,” Simon’s court papers say. “During his sole occupancy and due to his actions and negligence, the value of the town house has declined.”

Reyes’ lawyer, Brian DeLaurentis, denied that squatters were living in the town house.

“There are no squatters hanging around there, and, obviously, you can ride by and see,” he told DNAinfo New York.

A DNAinfo reporter did not see any squatters outside the town house on Monday afternoon.

DeLaurentis declined to discuss the case, stating that his client’s position was in the court papers.

Reyes, 59, moved into Arthur’s home in 2004, according to court papers. He claims that he and Arthur had a joint checking account and that he cared for Arthur until his death.

In 2008 Arthur looked into getting an attorney to draft a will, according to Reyes.

“Dr. Arthur retained Ms. Simon to draw a will naming me as the sole beneficiary to his estate, and thus with it, eventual title to our home,” Reyes says in court papers.

He claims that Arthur signed a will that Simon drew up in which he was named the sole beneficiary. Reyes says he cannot find a copy of will, but demands Simon produce it.

He also accuses Simon of fraudulently transferring the town house into a trust she controls. 

Simon did not return a call for comment.

She describes Reyes as a just a “temporary guest” in Arthur’s home and was never registered as Arthur’s domestic partner.