A Long Island man who only ever made one mortgage payment has deftly used the courts to stay in the house for 23 years — for free, according to legal papers.
Guramrit Hanspal, 52, has filed four lawsuits and claimed bankruptcy seven times to avoid being booted from the 2,081-square-foot East Meadow home he “bought” for $290,000 in 1998.
So far, it’s worked: two different banks and a real estate company have owned the three-bedroom, 2.5-bath home since Hanspal was foreclosed upon in 2000. But Hanspal remains.
Hanspal’s not the only occupant of the home leveraging the U.S. Bankruptcy Code’s “automatic stay” rules, which give debtors a temporary reprieve from all collection efforts, harassment, and foreclosures.
At least three other people listing the home at 2468 Kenmore St. as their address have also filed for bankruptcy in Brooklyn Federal Court, winning the “automatic stay,” only to have the claims eventually dismissed, court records show.
“It’s really a group of people that are more than willing to use the courts and abuse the courts to whatever extent they need to extend their illegal occupancy,” said attorney Jordan Katz, who reps current property owner Diamond Ridge Partners.
Hanspal’s history of litigation “is incredibly long and sordid,” said Katz, who added that while he’s seen occupants staying in foreclosed homes before, “nothing even approaches the length of this one.”
“He’s not legally occupying that property,” Katz said. “It’s an outrage.”
And a good deal: Hanspal, who had an initial 7.375 percent interest rate on the $232,000 adjustable-rate mortgage, likely saved himself upwards of $440,000 by not paying his bills.
Hanspal got the mortgage from Washington Mutual in 1998 and made exactly one payment — $1,602.37, — before defaulting, prompting the bank to begin foreclosure proceedings a year later, court records show.
By May 2000, Washington Mutual successfully foreclosed on the home, and Hanspal was “forever barred” from any claim to the property, according to the judgment of foreclosure.
But Hanspal never left. By January 2001, he filed his first bankruptcy claim, records show. He went on to file another in November 2001, two in 2002, and one in 2003.
If bankruptcy filings didn’t work, Hanspal simply went to state court seeking relief, sometimes acting as his own attorney, according to an August 2005 order from Nassau County Judge Burton S. Joseph.
Meanwhile, in 2004, Hanspal transferred the deed of the home to a friend, Rajender Pal, even though he had no legal right to do so, according to court papers. Pal, using the Kenmore Street address, filed for bankruptcy in 2005, staving off eviction yet again.
“Mr. Hanspel and Mr. Pal’s apparent frivolous conduct in using the Court system and the
Bankruptcy proceeding as a sword to get out of a lawful debt, rather than a shield, is most disconcerting to this Court,” Joseph wrote in 2005, threatening sanctions.
By 2008, Washington Mutual had gone under, marking one of the largest bank collapses in American history, with its assets eventually taken over by JP Morgan Chase.
The new bank was also unable to boot Hanspal, and has been locked in litigation with him for years, with Hanspal filing at least three lawsuits against JP Morgan Chase in Nassau Supreme Court. The two sides are also in an ongoing legal battle in Brooklyn Federal Court.
Hanspal claims in court papers that Chase committed “blatant fraud” in 2010 by trying to evict him when it didn’t have proper title to the home, and accused the bank of withholding “surplus” funds from a previous auction of the property.
Chase slammed Hanspal for “clogging the court docket” with “patently frivolous” claims.
By May 2018, Chase unloaded the property to Diamond Ridge, which offered Hanspal $20,000 to leave. He didn’t take the deal, and instead, filed for bankruptcy again in 2019 and 2020. Another purported occupant of the house, Boss Chawla, filed bankruptcy four times in 2019, as did another resident — allegedly named John Smith — who filed once.
“There always seems to be a new occupant who pops up at the last moment,” said Diamond Ridge attorney Katz. “They never show up in court.”
At least one judge thinks it’s time for Hanspal to go.
“The history of this case going on for approximately 20 years must come to an end,” Nassau District Court Judge Scott Fairgrieve wrote in a December 2019 housing court proceeding.
Diamond Ridge has spent $150,000 on legal fees and paid $50,000 in property taxes since purchasing the home, said member Max Sold, who added, “as of this writing [we] still have no known end in sight.”
The pandemic may give Hanspal yet another reprieve, noted Katz, who said the COVID-19 backlog in New York’s housing courts has kept them from pursuing their eviction effort.
Hanspal did not return messages. A woman who answered the bell at Kenmore Street and identified herself as a tenant said Hanspal was not at the home, which featured at least three cars without license plates in the driveway.
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