Homeowners seek merchants’ help to stop illegal houses
Two Dyker Heights homeowners came into Bay Ridge to sound the alarm over the increasing numbers of one- and two-family houses being illegally converted into multiple dwellings, telling a business group that something has to be done before it’s too late.
Anthony Ceretti and Bob Cassara gave a presentation to the Merchants of Third Avenue at the organization’s monthly meeting Monday night at The Pearl Room restaurant at 8201 Third Ave. The Merchants group represents the interests of store owners on the Bay Ridge portion of Third Avenue. Many of the Merchants members also live in Bay Ridge.
Cassara, founder of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance, a group that formed to urge governmental action, asked storeowners at the meeting to post information from the alliance explaining what illegal home conversions are and what can be done about it.
One of Cassara’s tips: It’s better to call 311 on the phone if you suspect a home is in the process of being illegally converted than to file a complaint online. A phone call gives the complaint a higher priority, he said.
A complaint can generate an inspection from the Department of Buildings (DOB), which can result in a stop-work order being issued, Cassara said.
Here are some of the signs a one-family home is possibly being illegally converted into a multiple dwelling: the presence of numerous gas lines or telephone lines, dumpsters containing large amounts of dirt, construction trucks parked outside of the house that do not list the company’s name and construction work taking place during off-hours.
Ceretti, a former vice president of the Merchants, told the group that unscrupulous property developers with big bucks are buying up homes in places like Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge and then hiring contractors to gut the interiors of the homes and subdividing the buildings to create multiple small living spaces while at the same time fudging the DOB paperwork.
The result is that a building zoned by the city to house a single family or two families, is now home to nearly two dozen people, according to housing preservationists. The addition of such large numbers of people crammed into small spaces puts a strain on city services like sanitation and water, preservationists said.
“It’s happening more and more. There are seven homes for sale this season on my block alone,” said Ceretti, who lives on 78th Street. “They’re partitioning the houses. It’s moving this way, folks.”
Individuals looking to buy homes are being priced out of the neighborhood, according to Ceretti, who said the average person can’t compete with the rich property developers because the developers can offer homeowners big bucks for their homes.
“They’re outbidding regular residents,” he said.
Cassara said he woke up last year to find that a one-family home across the street from him on Bay Ridge Parkway was in the process of being gutted. “Our zoning is for one and two-family homes,” he said.
If nothing is done, “we’ll have 10 times as many people as we have now,” Cassara said. “Take a walk and you’ll see what is happening.”
Cassara predicted an erosion of the tax base primarily because, he said, the DOB paperwork makes it appear as if the buildings are single or two-family homes, when in reality they are multiple unit dwellings.
“These buildings are being taxed as one and two-family homes,” he said.
Elected officials are taking steps to combat the problem. Councilmember Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams introduced a bill to give DOB inspectors easier access to sites. State Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn) has a bill that would make illegal home conversions a felony in the event a cop or firefighter is injured on the property.
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