THE MYSTERIOUS CASE OF THE CAT-BURGLAR LANDLORD

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A notorious Washington Heights landlord was arrested and charged with burglary Tuesday after his son allegedly broke into the apartment of one of his tenants, vandalized it and stole thousands of dollars worth of belongings.

Victor Caceres arrived home 6 p.m. Monday night to find the apartment he shares with his sister Marylin ransacked. He claims that among the stolen possessions were more than $5,000 worth of his sister’s jewelry, a safebox with checkbooks, identification and work papers, a $500 video camera, two leather jackets, and even some of his laundry and shoes. The burglar also broke drawers, cut the cable wire and scattered Victor’s clothing all about the apartment.

“All the money in the world can buy back my things,” Marylin Caceres said. “But you can’t buy back the way I felt before this happened.”

While the burglary traumatized the brother and sister, that was nothing compared to the shock they were in for the next day. On a hunch, Victor Caceres decided to set a trap for the burglar. At 11:30 a.m., he returned home from work, left his door slightly ajar, turned the lights off and waited quietly to see what would happen. After a few minutes, he heard a noise in an empty apartment across the hall. “It sparked my curiosity,” he said. “No one’s supposed to be in there.”

He crept across the hallway, and, looking through the peephole into the abandoned apartment, saw some of his clothes–and a shadow. Knowing that only the landlord’s son, Troy Agababian, had keys to this apartment, he became suspicious. Caceres promptly called the cops and ran outside to see Troy Agababian driving away–and then noticed Troy’s father in the basement.

Later that day, the police took both father and son to the 33rd precinct and booked the elder Agababian on burglary charges. Troy, who manages his father’s buildings, was not arrested or charged. Neither could be reached for comment. This father-son team is well known and roundly disliked among tenant advocates in Washington Heights: According to tenant attorney Ramon Gutierrez, the building next door owned by the Agababians is plagued with serious housing code violations. Because of the conditions, 13 tenants from both buildings are on rent strike, said tenant organizer Jennifer Wells.

The Cacereses, too, complain that their building has problems–like rats and garbage odors–and claim that the landlords tried to trick them into paying a rent increase three months before they should have.

But despite the neglect, the Cacereses were shocked by the break-in, Marylin said. “The fact that he broke into our apartment–you can expect it from a homeless person or a thief, not from the landlord who you expect to protect your apartment.”