Dyker Heights

Council bill would take money from crooked landlords

Illegal homeowners could face property liens

June 21, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember Vincent Gentile points to photos of a Dyker Heights construction site suspected of being an illegal home conversion. Eagle photos by Paula Katinas
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Charging that unscrupulous landlords are bypassing the city’s zoning laws by gutting one- and two-family homes and turning the dwellings into multiple-unit apartment houses, a trio of Brooklyn elected officials came to Dyker Heights on Monday to announce proposed legislation aimed at stopping the practice of illegal home conversions.

“Substandard housing is not affordable housing,” Councilmember Vincent Gentile said as he stood in front of a two-story brick house at 928 Bay Ridge Parkway, which he said is suspected of having been illegally converted into multiple units. Thirty complaints about the house have been filed with the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), according to the agency’s website.

Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) announced that he and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams planned to introduce legislation on Tuesday to put muscle in the city’s attempts to combat illegal home conversions. Under the City Charter, borough presidents are permitted to introduce legislation into the City Council.

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Councilmember Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush), chairman of the council’s Housing Committee, is sponsoring the bill with Gentile and Adams. Councilmember Barry Grodenchik (D-Bayside) is also a sponsor.

The bill would establish a system in which a fine of $15,000 for each illegal unit would be imposed on the owner of a building with three or more illegally converted units.

The proposed legislation would also expand the authority of the DOB and the city’s Environmental Control Board (ECB) to inspect properties and impose fines.

The bill provides that fines imposed by the ECB automatically create liens on properties that, if unpaid, could be included in a lien sale.

The idea is to hit landlords “very deep in the pocket,” Williams said.

Under the proposed legislation, the category of aggravated illegal conversions would be added to the list of offenses for which a vacate order could be issued due to immediately hazardous conditions.

Under the bill, if inspectors from the DOB can’t gain entry to the premises after several attempts, the agency could request a warrant for entry from the New York City Corporation Counsel.

“These measures serve as strong deterrents,” Gentile said.

Bob Cassara, founder of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance, praised the bill. “This is going to have some teeth,” he said.

Several elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan and Assemblymembers Peter Abbate and Pamela Harris, attended the press conference to voice their support for the bill.

Illegal home conversions aren’t just an esthetic issue, according to Gentile, Adams and Williams. It’s a public safety issue, they said.

By illegally subdividing units, landlords are cramming more people into a house than the building was designed to hold, the lawmakers said.

“People are preying on people’s [needs] for affordable housing,” Williams said.

Gentile charged that landlords often engage in shoddy construction practices that result in dangers such as a lack of access to fire escapes for tenants and faulty electrical wiring.

In the event of a fire, firefighters are unaware of how many people are living in a building, Williams said. “The Fire Department has no idea who is inside,” he said.

Adams also charged that illegal home conversions “put a strain on city services.”

The problem is growing in the Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights area, according to Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann, who said her office logged 430 complaints in a year from residents reporting their suspicions of illegal home conversions.

“It’s frustrating for nearby homes,” Beckmann said, adding that the illegal construction often goes all the way down to the building’s foundation and can endanger the integrity of the semi-attached house next door.

The community board submits the complaints to the DOB.

It’s not just Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, Adams said. “This is a complaint we are hearing throughout the borough,” he said.

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