Dyker Heights

Town hall to focus on stopping illegal home conversions

February 9, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember Vincent Gentile has introduced legislation aimed at making it easier for the Dept. of Buildings to issue violations against owners of houses suspected of illegally converting the homes into multi-unit dwellings. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas
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Residents of Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge are growing increasingly nervous about the prospect of a population explosion hitting their communities due to illegal home expansions that create multi-unit apartment houses in what were once charming one- and two-family dwellings.

But rather than complain, residents are taking action.

Two grass-roots organizations, the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance and the Dyker Heights Civic Association, are teaming up to co-sponsor a town hall on Feb. 26 at the Knights of Columbus Hall (1305 86th St.) at 7 p.m.

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The purpose of the town hall is to develop a comprehensive strategy to fight developers who are engaging in the practice of illegal home conversions, organizers said.

“This will be a public forum about the growing problem of illegal home conversions occurring in our community. We will discuss what needs to be done to stop and reverse this trend. Various elected and community officials will be present to hear our concerns,” the town hall flyer reads.

Bob Cassara, a founder of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance, said he is hoping for a big crowd at the town hall. “I hope its standing room only,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “In some communities, people throw up their hands and say that nothing can be done. We’re not like that in our community. We look for solutions.”

Cassara said he wants residents who attend the meeting to leave armed with information. “This is an educational process to get people to understand what is going on in the community so they can know what to look for and be able to report it to the Department of Buildings,” Cassara said.

The Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance has started a petition drive on www.change.org to garner support from residents in the fight.

The term illegal home conversions might sound innocuous, but it is not harmless, according to those trying to put a stop to the practice.

The proliferation of illegal residential conversions continues to be a major problem in our district,” Ann Falutico, chairman of Community Board 10’s Zoning and Land Use Committee, told members at the board’s Jan. 26 meeting. Community Board 10 represents the interests of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights in city government.

What is an illegal home conversion? Simply put, it is when a developer purchases a property containing a one or a two-family home and guts the building’s interior to create multiple small apartments within the building without applying for the proper permits from the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB). As a result, several families move into a building that was originally designed for just one or two families.

“Where a typical home usually has two or three bedrooms, illegally converted homes may have as many as five bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small kitchen per floor. More people reside there than what is deemed safe,” according to a statement on the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance’s website.

In some cases, as many as 25 people are crammed into a house that was originally built to house a single family of a mother, a father, and two children, Cassara said.

Illegal home conversions cause blocks to become overcrowded with residents and classrooms in local schools to become overcrowded with students, according to advocates, who said the practice also puts a strain on water usage, electricity and city services like sanitation, according to housing advocates.

There are increasing numbers of incidents of illegal home conversions, local elected officials said. “The issue of illegal conversions has been part of the conversation in our neighborhood for many years, but over the past couple of years, this problem has escalated at a pace never seen before,” said state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southwest Brooklyn). 

Elected officials are working on ways to combat the problem.

Councilmember Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) has introduced a bill to allow DOB inspectors to use circumstantial evidence (multiple mailboxes and numerous building entrances, for example) without actual building entry, as the basis for issuance of violations.

Golden has introduced state legislation to increase the penalties against those who fail to obtain proper permits or certificates, prior to altering a multiple dwelling. The bill would also create penalties for individuals that allow an altered building to be inhabited.

***UPDATED***

Article was updated to add comments from Bob Cassara.


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