Common Sense: Illegal conversions

March 2, 2015 JERRY KASSAR
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Make no mistake about it, illegal conversions of one, two and three family homes in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, as well as many other neighborhoods, into essentially multi-family Single Room Occupancy (SRO) buildings is a major threat to the quality of life as well as the health and safety of our communities.

It also is raising your property taxes by causing the overall market value of nearby homes to be propelled by developers paying disproportionately large amounts for properties that they illegally convert.

The problems caused by illegal conversions should be obvious. In addition to raising your property taxes, they are a strain on services, often unsafe from a fire and buildings perspective and slummy in nature.  They even cause noticeable overcrowding in our local schools that are planned based on data that assumes a two or three-family house as reflected by certificates of occupancy do not have a dozen families living at the address.

There are more than a few of these illegal conversions that have taken place in Bay Ridge and Dyker. In fact, there are dozens, with more expected unless we do something about it.

Since they are illegal, you would think enough said. It should be no problem stopping the conversions. If only it were that easy. At present, it is very difficult to prove they are illegal because the Buildings Department and Fire Department and, for that matter, any government agency can be denied permission to inspect.

A warrant issued by a judge may be obtained upon a complaint to do an inspection, but this can complicate the process and represents no guarantee. Additionally, by this point the illegal conversion has taken place, which means that even if you prove the illegal conversion occurred, the home has gone through the change and might end up an unoccupied vacant eyesore.

The city of New York needs a method of stopping illegal conversions from taking place beforehand as well as a more workable solution addressing the conversions that do happen.  There are a number of proposals that can work that have been put forward by State Senator Marty Golden and other local elected officials.

One bill that has been introduced by Senator Golden (whom I serve as chief of staff )and is supported by Bay Ridge Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis would make an owner of such an illegal conversion  punishable with up to seven years in prison if a person suffers physical injury in or around an illegal conversion.  It also hold liable anyone who assisted in creating the illegal conversion, which for example could be the architect and builders.

The senator is also proposing that the city establish a citywide agency task force to recommend policy changes that will stop illegal conversion from occurring in the first place. Taken together, the legislation which makes owning an illegal conversion unappealing and the task force which could make recommendations that would make proving a property is being illegally converted easier would be very helpful.

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