By Jennifer McLogan

CENTEREACH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A Long Island couple says they don’t feel safe in their own home.

They say their tenant hasn’t paid rent in more than a year, and is now threatening them.

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As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan exclusively reports, across from a Centereach church, all is not tranquil in a modest two family home.

(credit: CBS2)

“This tenant has been ruining our lives. We feel unsafe in our own home,” said homeowner Andrea Toto.

Toto and her husband have documented the trouble that began in the pandemic, when they say their 29-year-old bartender tenant came home with a new car, and rent payments abruptly ceased.

“She hasn’t paid anything since September of 2020. She purchased a new Mustang in August of 2020, but yet can’t afford rent,” Toto said.

They claim she’s hiding under the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which Gov. Kathy Hochul extended until at least Jan. 15. The governor says it’s there to protect those in need, but McLogan interviewed other landlords in Seaford, Westhampton, Sound Beach and Sag Harbor, all with tenants who are allegedly bilking the system.

“These tenants are utilizing the law as a sword instead of a shield, manipulating the moratorium, and the affirmative defense is to stay in the premises rent free,” said landlord-tenant attorney Christian Killoran.

Despite property allegedly destroyed, garbage out attracting rats, cursing at all hours, friends allegedly breaking down the back door, neighbors calling police about suspicious activity, shots fired in the night on their quiet street.

(credit: CBS2)

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“Since she signed that hardship there is nothing that we can do,” Toto said.

Under New York’s moratorium, tenants must submit a hardship declaration, and can apply for monetary help through the state’s emergency rental assistance program.

“I can’t get her out, and she wants to sign the emergency rental assistance program so that we get paid. I don’t want that money, because I’d have to keep her for another year,” Toto said.

McLogan wanted to hear the tenant’s side.

“Do you want to come out and talk to us?” McLogan asked.

(credit: CBS2)

“I’m not interested,” the tenant said. “I’m not interested.”

“She just continues to live for free. I’ve been to court and it just keeps getting adjourned,” Toto said.

Her next court date is on hold due to an overwhelming backlog of landlord-tenant hearings.

The governor’s office says the law also places a moratorium on residential foreclosures, so a landlord  doesn’t lose his or her home due to nonpayment of rent.

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Editor’s note: This story was first published Oct. 14.

Jennifer McLogan