‘I don’t believe you anymore’: Flushing residents confront owner of long-abandoned property

Photos by Suzanne Monteverdi/QNS

A Flushing residence that has been abandoned for years continues to cause quality-of-life concerns — and neighbors have had enough.

Outside of the structure at 35-20 167th St., tempers flared between locals and the property owner, who showed up to plead his case at a rally organized by state Senator Tony Avella on July 16.

Owner Robert Gezelter told neighbors he was gardening at the property, which he claimed he intends to renovate. Gezelter has plans to remove the boards from the windows, he said, and hire a landscaper.

Complaints about abandoned conditions at the property date back to 2001 on the Department of Buildings (DOB) database.

“Since I’ve been involved in this now for over a year, I’ve heard this story from you two or three times,” Avella said. “There’s a limit to what I’ll believe. I don’t believe you anymore.”

The Flushing property
The Flushing property

“I’m not asking you to believe anything, Senator,” Gezelter retorted.

“He just tells lies. He’s like Pinocchio,” one resident called out.

Next-door neighbors Joe and Joanne Vitulli, who have lived in Flushing for over 40 years, spoke with QNS about the property in November 2016. The couple said the home, which has been abandoned for over two decades, breeds animal infestations and attracts teenagers or homeless individuals.

The house also posed structural concerns when, in 2017, the back portion of the house collapsed. In January 2018, DOB issued an emergency declaration for the demolition of the rear addition.

Work to demolish and seal the addition was completed in the following months after the Department of Housing Preservation filed a permit for the job.

Joe Vitulli said he doesn’t understand why the owner won’t sell the property.

“You know how many people ring our doorbell in the nighttime wanting to know who the owner [of the property] is?” Vitulli said.

“I am not interested in selling,” Gezelter said.

Avella and rally attendees marched to the property owner’s current residence on 168th Street, where he reportedly lives with his parents. The state senator told residents he is “going to continue to push” to get the building demolished.

“He seems to think he’s some sort of an injured party here. Shame on him,” Avella said.