Illegal home conversion fears spread beyond southwest Brooklyn
Williams, Gentile, Adams highlight new legislation
Concerns over illegal home conversions, which have reached a fever pitch in communities like Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, are showing signs of spreading beyond southwest Brooklyn.
On March 8, Councilmember Jumaane D. Williams (D-Flatbush), chairman of the council’s Housing and Buildings Committee, joined Councilmember Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) and Borough President Eric Adams at a press conference outside a church on Flatbush Avenue to discuss legislation they are co-sponsoring to combat illegal home conversions.
A two-alarm fire ripped through the church building earlier this year, killing one person and injuring 16 others. Williams charged that the space above the church had been illegally converted into an apartment building. Often, illegal home conversions don’t have fire escapes or emergency exits, Williams said.
“Illegal home conversions have been putting New Yorkers in harm’s way for decades, especially in my district, where we have seen two major fires in converted apartments this past year alone,” Williams said. “Our bill aims to comprehensively end this housing issue once and for all by introducing a number of penalties on bad-actor landlords and gives building inspectors more resources to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.”
Gentile said illegal home conversions are dangerous and that the practice has to stop. “Illegal conversions are dangerous, especially to those most vulnerable, such as immigrants, many of whom are unaware that the places they call home are illegal because they are unsafe,” he said.
Illegally converted homes often contain serious violations of New York City’s fire code, are overcrowding, have faulty wiring and structural unsoundness caused by illegal excavation and overbearing of weight, according to Gentile.
An illegal home conversion takes place when a property owner guts the interior of a one, two, or three-family home and subdivides the building several tiny living spaces, sometimes as small as cubicles.
Williams and Gentile are introducing legislation at the request of Adams. Among other protections, their bill would: create a new building code violation category called Aggravated Illegal Conversion to penalize property owners who create three or more units in a single unit without proper permits; extend the availability of access warrants to investigate suspected illegally converted homes; give building inspectors the ability to take quick action to have illegal units vacated immediately; fine violators $15,000 per illegal unit.
In addition, violations or fines would be lienable against the real property, superseding all but emergency repair liens. The liens may be sold in the same fashion as a delinquent water bill.
At a recent Dyker Heights town hall held to discuss the problem of illegal home conversions, 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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