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Buyer Paid $1.657M for Brownstone Knowing it Came With 'Killer' Squatter

 A Harlem brownstone sold for $1.657 million even though the buyer knew that it came with a convicted killer who was squatting and refused to move.
A Harlem brownstone sold for $1.657 million even though the buyer knew that it came with a convicted killer who was squatting and refused to move.
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DNAinfo.com/James Fanelli

CENTRAL HARLEM — Upper Manhattan's real estate market is so hot that even the owner of a brownstone with a squatter who served time for manslaughter and refused to leave made a killing when the property sold to an eager buyer.

That's what happened in Central Harlem when a rundown brownstone on West 119th Street was scooped up last year for $1.657 million, according to court records.

Real estate investor Israel Weinberger bought the property after it was only on the market for a month. The sale involved a bidding war among buyers who were well aware that the brownstone came with the headache of having to kick out squatter Shaqwan Latinez, a convicted killer who had served seven years in prison for manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon, according to court records.

Lawyer Diahn W. McGrath made the revelation in a court filing last month involving the estate of actress Wyetta Turner-Carter in Manhattan Surrogate's Court.

McGrath, who represented a family member of Turner-Carter, credited broker Shari Rollins for getting the three-story brownstone sold despite Latinez, whom McGrath described in the court filing as a "threatening presence." 

"She’s very good at that sort of thing," McGrath said of Rollins. "You have to know your customer and know your product."

After Turner-Carter died in 2012, McGrath was the one who discovered that the person who died owned two brownstones in Central Harlem that had been used as single-room occupancies but had fallen into disrepair. When McGrath's firm first saw the West 119th Street brownstone, it was padlocked, but Latinez was still living there, according to the legal filing.

McGrath and the Manhattan Public Administrator's Office, which was overseeing Turner-Carter's estate, hired lawyer Michael Schwartz to go to housing court to remove Latinez. But Latinez fought back, claiming he was a legal tenant and Turner-Carter had rented him a room in the brownstone on a weekly basis since 2009.

The case stalled in 2014, and McGrath ultimately dropped the effort to remove Latinez. Instead the public administrator's office, with McGrath's advice, decided to sell the property disclosing to prospective buyers that Latinez was their problem.

Rollins listed the brownstone for $1.5 million, but after multiple offers, the building was sold in May 2015 for $1.657 million to Weinberger, who owns scores of buildings in the city, according to property records.

Robert Pair, the president of real estate brokerage Harlem Lofts, said he wasn't surprised that the property commanded that price, considering renovated townhouses and brownstones in the surrounding area — known as the Mount Morris Park Historic District — can easily fetch more than $4 million.

Pair said the neighborhood has become a popular place to live because of the housing stock.

"Upper Manhattan is where you can find a real home," Pair said.

"I would have never guessed that in the '90s but have four boys under 12, all born in Upper Manhattan," he said. "I don't want to live anywhere else but if I had to raise these little guys in an apartment with no yard, I'd likely move to the 'burbs." 

Latinez was convicted of manslaughter and criminal possession in 1985, according to court records. He was released from state prison in 1991, but was re-incarcerated for four months in 1996, records show.

Latinez could not be reached for comment.

However, a next-door neighbor to the West 119th Street brownstone said she believed his belongings had been removed from the building some time last year.

The next-door neighbor, who declined to give her name, said she and her sister signed paperwork to buy their brownstone on the block on March 30, 1981, the day John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.

She said a close-knit group of property owners helped beautify the block and rid it of a drug problem over the past three decades. But in the past few years, she said, brokers have bombarded homeowners with offers to by their properties for as much $2 million.

"If you see a brownstone in Harlem, the owners have had a lot of calls telling them to sell," she said.

The rising prices coupled with aging homeowners has started to change the block and the surrounding neighborhood, she said.

"We worked to make it look decent, and now many of the people who worked to do that are being pushed out or have passed," she said.

The West 119th Street brownstone purchased by Weinberger is currently boarded up, but permits filed with the city Department of Building in June 2016 show that it is undergoing a $100,000 renovation.

Weinberger did not respond to a request for comment.