With so many homes uninhabited in the winter—more than half in some parts of the East End—there are occasional breaches.Over the years, Southampton and East Hampton town police occasionally have reported teenagers throwing parties in empty residences, transients spending a night or two uninvited, or part-time residents returning to find items missing from a pantry, refrigerator or liquor cabinet, an unmade bed or a sat-upon couch, maybe much more of a mess.
This time was different.
On April 14, Tracy Collins saw an unfamiliar four-door silver Subaru in the driveway of her vacant home on Shore Road in Hampton Bays. She noticed, too, that the blinds were drawn, which is not how she had left them.
Southampton Town Police investigated and discovered that Alexander Rojas, 25, had been living in Ms. Collins’s house since September 2013. His Christmas tree was up. So was his flat-screen TV. There were also a cat and litter box, furniture, bikes, clothing, groceries and large jugs of water—public water had been one utility Mr. Rojas had not been able to hook up, according to Ms. Collins. But, otherwise, he went to great lengths to appear legitimate: He had drawn up a fraudulent lease, introduced himself to neighbors as Ms. Collins’s tenant, put up a mailbox, and had pieces of her mail in his car, she said.
Mr. Rojas was charged on April 14—after Ms. Collins that day called the police, who at first thought a burglary might be in progress—with criminal possession of a forged instrument, criminal tampering and criminal trespassing, all misdemeanors. He is due to appear in Southampton Town Justice Court on June 10.
“They sent officers one by one—it came to the point where, I think, there were five or six police cars,” recounted Ms. Collins, who watched the drama unfold from her own car parked just outside. “I did see that the officers drew their weapons—it was quite the scene.”
Mr. Rojas emerged from the house half naked, the homeowner said. After he was handcuffed and put in a patrol car, police officers entered the residence, then asked the homeowner to come in as well.
She had left the place—one of several she winterizes and leaves empty, and one she has not lived in for years—without appliances or furniture. The last she saw, it was immaculate, “clean and empty,” she said. “And when I walked in the house, it felt like I walked into somebody else’s house.”
Inside her house were stereo equipment, expensive computer gaming equipment, “lots of marijuana with little baggies,” couches, coffee tables and other furniture, the flat-screen television, a dirt bike and bicycles, she said.
“The place was really disgusting,” she said. “It smelled like marijuana and cigarettes.”
“There was open food everywhere,” Ms. Collins continued, adding that the sink was full of dirty, moldy dishes—“just gross.”
The fact that a mailbox had been erected outside her house on Shore Road meant that correspondence that should have been delivered to Ms. Collins’s actual residence had come into Mr. Rojas’s hands. He’d used her name in the lease, she said, which asserted that he’d paid her $30,000 up front and named an actual real estate management company based in Brooklyn.
His own mail included overdue bills from utility companies like PSEG Long Island, to which he’d been connected using the fraudulent lease, Ms. Collins said.
Mr. Rojas was allowed to return to the house last week to collect his belongings; his cat had been taken to a shelter.
Reached by cellphone on Saturday, he declined to comment. His attorney, Robert Savage of East Hampton, also declined to comment on Saturday.
“People return this time of year and find, maybe, a couple of beer cans in the house, food eaten from the pantry,” East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said last week. He said there have been incidents in his jurisdiction over the years involving “neighborhood kids who found an open door and go in from time to time,” as well as “isolated incidents where somebody has stayed.”
But not for such extended periods, he said—“not to that extent.” The chief said that in many instance house watchers, neighbors and alarms are able to prevent such incidents.
“It’s not so common that someone actually moves in,” Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa of the Southampton Town Police agreed. “We have had occurrences of that happening, where people will move in. Sometimes more transient people will find a little bit of refuge.” She added that, more often, the issue is kids using an empty house to host parties in.
She said Mr. Rojas’s modus operandi had been “particularly crafty.”
“He went the extra distance to make the house his own,” she pointed out.