Pols demand action from city to stop illegal home conversions
Bay Ridge’s elected officials have stepped up their efforts to fight the troubling trend of illegal home conversions in their community and in other southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods, charging that the practice is endangering lives.
State Sen. Marty Golden and Councilmember Vincent Gentile have both spoken out in recent days about their concerns over illegal home conversions – the practice in which property developers snatch up one and two-family homes on quiet residential streets and subdivide the houses to create multiple unit dwellings, often in violation of the city’s building codes.
The developers then rent the small apartments to families. As a result, as many as 25 people are living in a building that was originally a private home meant for one or, at most, two families.
Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southwest Brooklyn) estimated that there may be hundreds of illegal home conversions in southwest Brooklyn.
Golden is urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to create a multi-agency task force that would include to police, fire and building departments to come up with a strategy to stop the illegal home conversions.
Golden said he discussed the task force proposal with de Blasio at a recent event and that the mayor appeared receptive to the idea.
“I believe we will see some movement on this issue,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Under his plan, the appropriate agencies would investigate suspicious construction sites. Among the things that would arouse suspicion, according to Golden, are excessive amounts of dirt and debris, numerous mailboxes being placed in front of a two-family home and a large amount of utility boxes.
Illegal home conversions not only violate zoning laws, they can be downright dangerous, Golden said. He pointed to a fatal fire in Flatbush that took place in an allegedly illegally subdivided building in November as an example of what could happen if the practice is unchecked.
Golden said the Nov. 20 fire in a three-story building on Flatbush Avenue, in which one person was killed and 15 people were injured, “further highlights the need for Mayor Bill de Blasio to create a multi-agency task force to address this issue.”
The New York Daily News reported that the owner of the building had been cited by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development for violations in September.
The problem should be addressed on a number of levels, according to Golden, who also spoke out about the issue at a town hall held by Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina on Dec. 10. Golden charged that illegal home conversions are a factor in the jump in school enrollment in School District 20 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Sunset Park) in recent years.
“The safety of all people must be paramount in our discussions, including that of the tenants and our emergency service workers. The increase in population has also contributed to the overcrowding in our schools, and the impact on our quality of life cannot be ignored,” Golden said.
Gentile is moving forward with legislation he recently introdiced that is aimed at cracking down on developers. Under his bill, inspectors from the Department of Buildings would be able to use circumstantial evidence outside a home, such as large numbers of mailboxes or numerous utility wires, to reasonably assume that the building has been illegally subdivided and to issue fines.
Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) also issued a statement in response to the chancellor’s town hall.
“Population growth, along with a rash of illegal conversions in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst is not helping. These factors all converge to bring more children into the District 20 schools than the existing classrooms can handle,” he said.
“Illegal home conversions have our area schools bursting at the seams and therefore the Department of Education should notify families of the dangers of illegal conversions, what to look for and how to report suspected conversions. In addition, the Department of Education could start reporting obvious red flags to the DOB as a first step,” Gentile said. “To suggest that population growth and illegal conversions are unrelated to the overcrowding of District 20 schools would be irresponsible.”
At the town hall, Fariña said she was aware of how concerned Gentile is about the issue of illegal home conversions and its impact on school overcrowding.
“Your councilman cornered me at an event,” she told the audience.
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