City starts crackdown on illegal home conversions
Mayor signs Gentile bill to increase inspections
Residents who suspect that a private home on their street is being illegally converted into a multiunit apartment house have reason to hope that the city can step in and stop it now that Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed a bill into law aimed at cracking down on sneaky landlords.
In a recent ceremony at City Hall, the mayor signed a bill sponsored by City Councilmembers Vincent Gentile, Jumaane Williams and Barry Grodenchik and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams that creates a special category called Aggravated Illegal Conversions and gives authorities more tools to combat it.
Illegal home conversions take place when a property owner subdivides a single-family or two-family home into multiple units, in some cases as small as a single room, and rents them out to tenants.
Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) said the new law is important because it takes a multipronged approach in the battle to preserve the city’s residential neighborhoods.
“This bill will create a $15,000 penalty for each illegally partitioned unit that is three or more units above the Certificate of Occupancy. The imposed fine will constitute a lien on the property that if unpaid for one year can be sold by the city. Additionally, this bill will equip the Department of Buildings with the tools necessary to obtain a warrant to gain access to a suspected illegal conversion,” Gentile said in a statement.
The bill was approved unanimously, 49-0, by the council last month.
The legislation was designed to hit unscrupulous landlords where it hurts, in the pocketbook, according to Gentile.
“By removing the profit motive from unscrupulous owners, this bill will help protect tenants from imminently life-threatening conditions, increase the safety of first responders in emergency situations, safeguard our overburdened infrastructure systems and maintain the quality of life in our communities,” Gentile said.
The bill was endorsed by the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance and other grass-roots groups.
Illegal home conversions are a public safety issue, Gentile said.
The new law will bring a significant change to the process of obtaining a warrant to enable inspectors from the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) to gain access to a property. If there have been two unsuccessful attempts to gain access, DOB will be able to request that the New York City Law Department seek to obtain a warrant. Once granted permission by a judge, inspectors will be allowed into the dwelling.
Williams (D-Flatbush), chairman of the council’s Housing Committee, said illegal home conversions are a symptom of a larger problem. “Illegal home conversions are a high-risk symptom of the overall housing crisis we have in this city,” he said.
The passage of the bill marked a major step toward safer buildings and a better quality of life for residents, according to Adams, who called it “common-sense, bipartisan legislation that prioritizes the health and safety of at-risk tenants and neighbors.”
On the state level, Assemblymember Pamela Harris (D-Coney Island-Dyker Heights-Bay Ridge) is pushing legislation. “The best way to prevent the development of these dangerous structures is to impose tougher penalties on those that create them,” she said.
Even before the city bill was passed, DOB was kept busy investigating complaints filed by residents and local community board members suspicious of activity on their streets.
On Aug. 4, the agency ordered tenants of a two-family house at 6705 Seventh Ave. in Dyker Heights to vacate the premises after inspectors found 31 people living there. A few days later, the city issued a vacate order on a second house located nearby.
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