A New York landlord has found his property torched by squatters after moving his tenants out to carry out renovations.

Landlord Zafar Iqbal, who works for the Metropolitan Transport Authority, bought the Dyker Heights property for $1.1 million back in 2017.

He has claimed he’s now paying $6,000 a month in mortgage and struggling financially because the home invaders ‘keep coming back’.

In New York squatters can claim residence in a property after occupying it for 30 days.

After this they can no longer be prosecuted for trespassing and the matter is dealt with in civil courts.

Back in November Iqbal was notified that the property had caught fire, telling the New York Post: “I got a call from the fire department that the house is burnt out. Somebody got in there and torched my house.

“That’s when I found out it was a squatter living there. The squatters have more rights than the homeowners. I’m the owner of the house. How much more can I do? I need help.”

New York City is facing a mounting crisis with housing. Alexander Spatari / Getty

The alleged squatter was later charged with arson and criminal mischief, and jailed for six months after pleading guilty.

According to a criminal complaint, they told cops: “The fire was caused by candles. I was smoking cigarettes, 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.”

The alleged squatter was later charged with arson and criminal mischief. PIX11 News/YouTube

Iqbal says that he is still unable to access the property, which he now wants to renovate but has been waiting for insurance claim to come through for three months.

He explained: “Every two or three weeks I go there but I don’t approach. I don’t know if these guys have weapons or whatever. My safety is precious too.”

“I don’t make that type of money and I’m paying all that money out of my pocket,” Iqbal admitted. “This is costing me. It’s not right.”

He added: “My wife is upset. Her health is not that good and this is just compounding it more. This is not good for my neighbors. I treat my neighbors as a family. Your neighbors are an extension of your family, basically.

“I do apologize for what’s going on, but there is nothing more I can do.”

Advocacy groups have cited lack of affordable housing as a factor in rising homelessness. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Advocacy and support organisation Coalition for the Homeless cites an ongoing shortage in affordable housing as a major contributor to rising levels of homelessness in the city, claiming it is at the highest level since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Lawyers working in Queens representing both landlords and tenants claim that the cases where people break into a vacant home and refuse to leave are rare.

Attorney Daniel Pomerantz, who represents landlords, instead claimed the main problem is court backlogs which mean the process of getting an eviction order can take more than a year.

Speaking to Gothamist, Pomerantz said: “The big problem when the landlord or the owner tries to get them out is the delays in the court system that have not improved at all since COVID.”

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