Squatting in New York in the house of a 90-year-old rabbi for two years
This couch potato is not kosher.
A 90-year-old rabbi’s life has been turned upside down by a cheeky squatter who moved into his living room two years ago – and shows no signs of leaving any time soon.
Accused agi-tater Roselee Moskowitz, 67, is said to have benefited from the kindness of Rabbi Meyer Leifer and his family, who gave her accommodation in his two-bedroom apartment on West 28th Street when she had no nowhere to go at the dawn of the pandemic, according to his daughter Daniella and court records.
But the mitzvah of mensch was rewarded with unimaginable chutzpah.
Moskowitz pays bupkes in rent and spends day after day planted on the rabbi’s brown suede couch, vegetating, according to Daniella and Manhattan housing court documents seeking his ouster.
“She’s just weird. …She just sits there and reads or sits there quietly staring into space. I don’t really understand what’s going on,” Daniella said.
Mosokowitz — who inexplicably received a letter of support from Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine’s office as she fights to stay in Leifer’s home — commandeered the rabbi’s television; leaves the small apartment windows open, even when it’s cold – and once barricaded herself in the bathroom and called the cops during an argument with one of Leifer’s children, Daniella said.
“His presence there is so insulting. For months he was just angry and helpless. It pisses her off emotionally,” Daniella said of her dad, who struggles with dementia. “Let an old man who can barely walk – let him go watch the news and television in his living room.
“He may not survive this,” she said.
A disheveled, masked Moskowitz called 911 when The Post visited the apartment last week.
Daniella Leifer met Moskowitz in February 2020 through an acquaintance who was trying to help her find housing.
With the pandemic raging, the family had moved Meyer Leifer out of town with relatives for a few months and let Moskowitz camp in their two-bedroom coop while he was away, the rabbi’s daughter explained.
By June, Meyer was back and Daniella paid for Moskowitz to rent a room elsewhere, but that didn’t last. Moskowitz showed up at the rabbi’s door again in February 2021, in need of housing.
“My father did not know who she was. He’s a bit forgetful,” said Daniella Leifer, father of five and grandfather of seven.
The rabbi fell in his bedroom in October 2021 and lay alone on the floor for hours with a head injury while Moskowitz sat in the apartment, the family claims. The injured Leifer was discovered by a visiting friend. He now has full-time home help.
The family was forced to go to court in a bid to get Moskowitz out because she stayed longer than 30 days – the magic number in New York law that gives someone “squatter rights”.
Rabbi Leifer, who spent 42 years as head of Congregation Emunath Israel, or The Chelsea Shul, sued in May to evict Moskowitz. She applied for emergency rental assistance from the state in an effort to avoid legal action, Leifer argues in the lawsuit.
Such aid was intended to boost tenants struggling to stay afloat during economic shutdowns triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. But in some cases, squatters took advantage of legal changes inspired by the pandemic, including the government at the time. Cuomo’s eviction moratorium and financial hardship declarations – which halted a deal but did not require tenants to provide proof of financial hardship.
The eviction attempt should be halted because she is elderly and has been unable to get a lawyer, Moskowitz claimed in her legal response. The court rejected Moskowitz’s offer of housing assistance because she never paid rent.
It’s unclear why or how Levine’s office became involved in the court case. The September 1 letter to the Housing Court gushed in support of the accused squatter – never mentioning the sick and elderly rabbi whose house she took over.
“The legal and judicial structures have facilitated this. How is this allowed to continue? said the rabbi’s daughter. “Why is it a thing that after 30 days a non-paying guest you’re trying to be nice to can just screw you over and take you to court? It shouldn’t be.
Additional reporting by Brian Zak
New York Post