DA: 'Landlord' rented out home that wasn't his

(AP) - Not only did Ozell Neely collect $2,200 amonth in rent on a house prosecutors contend he didn't own, butthey say he also tried to evict a tenant when the woman stoppedpaying in a dispute over whether promised repairs had been made.

Neely's attorney argues that his client acted like a landlordand sought the eviction because he is the rightful owner, havingbought the property in a foreclosure proceeding.

Neely, the 47-year-old operator of Welcome Home Realty inQueens, was arrested Tuesday on burglary, grand larceny and othercharges after prosecutors say he rented out the abandoned home inBaldwin, on Long Island, that he didn't own. He faces a maximum ofseven 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 haveseen," Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in astatement. "But for a brief period in time, it worked and heprofited."

Rice said that Neely took a prospective tenant to the boarded-uphome in September 2008. He told the woman, whom prosecutors havenot identified, that he had lost the key to the home, then toredown boards and cut through a chain link fence to get inside.

And despite the house having no refrigerator, no running waterand warped doors, the tenant - looking for a home in one of thenation's most expensive housing markets - agreed to pay $2,200 amonth in rent, as long as Neely repaired the damages, prosecutorssaid.

Neely collected more than $10,000 over the next few months, butin April 2009, the tenant stopped paying rent, claiming Neely hadreneged on the repairs, prosecutors said.

That's when Neely had his attorney file several "Notices ofPetition for Non-Payment" against the tenant. It is not clearwhether any of the notices were received, but the tenant remainedfor several more months.

In June, a person claiming to be the property's real owner got atip that someone was living there. He spoke to the tenant, whomoved out a month later, then referred the case to prosecutors.

Defense attorney Brian Griffin counters that Neely "believes heis the true owner of this home." Griffin did not provide specificsbut said his client "attended a closing at an attorney's officeand bought the house," which was in foreclosure.

Griffin said Neely's actions are "consistent with that of anowner." He said Neely did make repairs, "and when his tenantdefaulted, he did what any landlord woud do" - take them to court.

"It appears the DA is dealing with a case of multiple claims ofownership," Griffin said.

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