City officials must take proactive measures and enact tough laws that will slow and hopefully halt further conversions.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, the common sense alternative to Bill de Blasio in the race for mayor, joined with community groups from Brooklyn and Queens on the steps of City Hall to speak-out about the ongoing negative impact of the illegal home conversions on the neighborhoods of our city. Assemblywoman Malliotakis was flanked by members of Elmhurst United and the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance, two grassroots organizations that have fought to bring attention to this issue and who have repeatedly called upon city officials to take proactive measures and enact tough laws that will slow and hopefully halt further conversions.
Illegal home conversions often take place when shady speculators buy single or 2 family homes and then, without filing the necessary paperwork or receiving the required permits, convert these homes into a warren of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) apartments. The resulting units create a host of problems and public safety issues, not only for those living in the illegal conversion, but, for the surrounding community as well. The NYC Department of Buildings’ Open Data website reports that there have been over 140,000 complaints filed on suspected illegal conversions over the past 7 years.
One of the most common public safety issues is the threat of fire. In 2014, a man was killed and nine people were injured, four of them children, when a fire enveloped a wood frame building in Flatbush, Brooklyn that was housing 23 tenants in 11 rooms.
Earlier this year a Dyker Heights home was issued full vacate after a two family home was converted into an 8 family house. Another Dyker Heights home was found to be housing 31 people – including 13 children – in what was originally a two family house.
Illegal conversions are an absolute danger to occupants. Inspections of these homes found sealed exits, unpermitted gas and plumbing lines and insufficient ventilation.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis said, “Today we are calling on the city to be more proactive in their prosecution of these illegal conversions by:
- Enforcing existing laws, such as Intro 1218 which created a $15,000 penalty for each illegally partitioned unit that is three or more units above the certificate of occupancy. The imposed fine constitutes a lien on the property that if unpaid for one year can be sold by the city. Additionally, the law equips the Department of Buildings with the tools necessary to obtain a warrant to gain access to a suspected illegal conversion”.
- Create a citywide task force of inspectors who can be deployed in a timely fashion to inspect buildings that have received complaints of being illegal conversions. The task force will work closely with Community Boards, Civic Organizations, the NYPD and FDNY who will act as their eyes and ears in the community.
- Pursue the collection of uncollected ECB/DOB fines; according to a 2016 article in Crain’s, New York City has more than half billion uncollected ECB/DOB fines. The City Charter allows these fines to be written off as uncollectable. The actual collection of even a portion of these fines will create a revenue stream the will pay the salaries for additional inspectors who are desperately needed.
- Work with state legislators to fashion and pass legislation that would levy severe penalties on landlords that permit illegal re-entry to buildings that have been evacuated by the Department of Buildings Marshals Unit.
“These are the steps that should be taken immediately and as mayor, I would fast-track their implementation, making it a priority for my administration and I would use the influence of my office to lobby the state legislature and the city council to pass the appropriate legislation. In addition, I will also work with local civic groups like Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance and Elmhurst United to identify and crack down on unsafe and illegal home conversions throughout the city.
“Now, I would like to welcome to the podium Bob Cassara of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance and Phil Wong of Elmhurst United who will speak to the issue of illegal apartment conversions in their respective neighborhoods.”