Dyker Heights

Adams pushes plan to fight illegal home conversions

March 5, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Dept. of Buildings issued a Stop-Work order on this Bay Ridge Parkway house after neighbors raised suspicions about construction taking place there. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas
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Combating the rash of illegal home conversions taking place in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and other Brooklyn neighborhoods will take a combination of strong legislation and beefed-up investigations by inspectors from the New York City Department of Buildings, according to housing preservation advocates.

At a recent Dyker Heights town hall held to discuss the problem, residents and civic leaders demanded action on the part of government officials.

“We had between 250 and 300 people at our town hall. That shows the frustration people are feeling,” Fran Vella-Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, told the Brooklyn Eagle. The civic association and the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance co-sponsored the town hall, which took place Feb. 26.

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“We want legislation and we want a citywide task force to be formed on this. We want all of the appropriate agencies to act on the hot spots that we know of and come up with different ways to increase enforcement,” Vella-Marrone said. She labeled the section of Dyker Heights located on Bay Ridge Parkway between Fort Hamilton Parkway and 14th Avenue as one such hot spot. The section contains numerous suspicious houses, she said.

Borough President Eric Adams plans to introduce legislation in the City Council and is working with council members Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) and Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush) to get it passed.

Under the bill, a new building code violation category would be created: aggravated illegal conversion, punishable by a fine of $15,000 per unit. The legislation calls for inspectors from the Dept. of Buildings (DOB) to have the ability to take quick action to have illegal units vacated immediately.

The borough president’s plan calls for the fines levied against property owners to go to a designated city agency to use for housing displaced residents.

“This legislation is the most significant, proactive effort to date to tackle the illegal conversion crisis, where the safety of Brooklynites in dangerous ‘cubicle living’ lies in the balance. For the first time, we would properly address the displacement problem that occurs when enforcement on these units occurs, helping to prevent homelessness for innocent families,” Adams said in a statement to the Eagle.

According to the DOB, an illegal home conversion takes place when a property owner sub-divides the interior of a building to create multiple units, often the size of tiny cubicles, and then rents out the units. In Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge, property owners often subdivide small one or two-family homes and convert them into apartment buildings.

As a result, a building that is zoned for one or two families instead has 20-25 people living there.

Illegal home conversions make communities far more crowded than they ordinarily would be and puts a strain on sanitation, water and sewer usage, according to housing preservationists. It’s also dangerous, civic leaders said, since many of the illegal units are poorly planned and often don’t have fire escapes and other emergency exits.

“There are so many problems associated with it,” Vella-Marrone said. “It’s a safety issue. These units often have transient tenants living in them. There’s also the problem that stems from the fact that unscrupulous developers are buying these one and two-family homes and paying inflated prices for them so that they can subdivide them. That affects the real estate market and people’s property taxes.”

In addition to demanding the citywide task force, Vella-Marrone said the civic association will likely form a task force of its own to put pressure on city officials. “We’re not going away. We plan to keep on top of this,” she said.

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