Bay Ridge

GOP joins effort to stop illegal home construction

Grimm, Golden supporting online petition

August 15, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The concern over the future of housing in the Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights area is running across political party lines, with Republicans and Democrats alike demanding action from the city to prevent the neighborhood from becoming overcrowded due to increasing numbers of people moving into former one and two-family homes that have been secretly retro-fitted into apartment buildings without city approval.

As Democratic Councilmember Vincent Gentile continued pushing legislation in the City Council that would make it easier for inspectors to gain access to suspect properties for the purposes of inspection, two Republican-Conservative lawmakers, U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm and state Sen. Marty Golden, are bringing attention to a petition drive launched by local residents to demand action from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The petition drive went live on last week. Both Grimm and Golden have shared the information on social media sites and are urging residents to sign it.

Grimm (R-C-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Staten Island) and Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) also hosted a meeting with residents on Aug. 6 to discuss the problem of illegal home conversions. The idea for the online petition came out of that meeting, according to a spokesman for Grimm.

The two GOP lawmakers wrote a letter to de Blasio in mid-June, requesting that something be done to stop the forward momentum of conversions. “This activity is of grave concern to us,” Grimm and Golden wrote. “Not only does it have a detrimental effect on the neighboring residents but it also proves to be extremely dangerous. These buildings are not safe for the number of residents they are housing.”

By taking a one or two-family home and reconstructing the interior to sub-divide it into several apartments, developers are creating virtual SROs in which the occupancy rate is “several times what is legally permissible,” Grimm and Golden wrote in their letter to de Blasio.

Golden also told NY1 News that he would like to see a task force of city agencies formed to address the issue.

On one block alone, Bay Ridge Parkway between Fort Hamilton Parkway and 10th Avenue, there have been a number of home conversions in recent months, according to residents. Following complaints from the block’s residents and Community Board 10, the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) issued a “stop-work” order at one house, 978 Bay Ridge Parkway.

But the problem is more widespread and extends belong Bay Ridge Parkway, Grimm and Golden said.

Homeowners who have lived in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights for decades said they are growing increasingly worried over the number of one and two-family homes being sold for big bucks that are being completely gutted by new owners apparently with the intent of converting the private houses into multiple dwellings for large groups of tenants.

Residents are taking a pro-active approach to fighting the potential overcrowding. NY1 News reported that longtime resident Bob Cassara has formed a group called the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance.

The ramifications are potentially devastating, according to Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10. “It changes the density of the block. It increases the number of cars on the block. It stretches city services such as water and sanitation. And it causes our public schools to become even more overcrowded than they are now,” Beckmann told the Brooklyn Eagle in a recent interview.

Developers are not permitted to do large-scale construction work unless they obtain the proper permits from the DOB. Turning a single or a two-family home into an apartment building with six or eight units requires extensive paperwork and engineering reports. Developers are also required to submit proof to DOB that the building will have adequate fire exits and other safety measures.

There are steps that can be taken to crack down on those who subvert city rules, according to Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst), who said legislation he is proposing will so just that.

“My bill would allow inspectors who couldn’t gain access to still cite a building owner if circumstantial evidence of illegal conversion – such as too many mailboxes, doorbells, garbage cans or utility connections – was found,” Gentile said.

Under current city law, inspectors from the DOB often face obstacles when attempting to gain access to buildings suspected of being in violation of building codes.

Earlier this summer, Gentile convened a meeting with officials from the mayor’s office, DOB, Community Board 10, and other agencies to come up with a strategy.

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