Dyker Heights

Housing preservation group to join City Hall protest

October 17, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bob Cassara, founder of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance (pictured at a Summer Stroll on 3rd event in 2016), is pointing to the Oct. 19 protest rally as a way to spread the organization’s message to a citywide audience. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas
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Dyker Heights-based housing preservation group that elected officials have credited with inspiring the city’s fight against landlords who illegally convert one- and two-family homes into multi-unit apartment houses is planning to join other advocates in a protest at City Hall on Thursday.

The Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance will be among the participants expected to be at a protest organized by Republican Mayoral candidate state Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis in front of City Hall on Oct. 19 at 11 a.m.

In an email urging Brooklyn residents to attend the rally, Alliance founder Bob Cassara wrote that the protest will give preservationists the opportunity to get across the message that while the cause has seen significant victories over the past couple of years, there is still a great deal of work to be done.

“We’ve successfully made illegal conversions a huge issue at the local level in our community — now is an excellent opportunity for us to promote the issue even more and reach a wider audience. With a large enough turnout, we may be able to draw attention to this issue at the next mayoral candidate debate,” Cassara wrote.

An illegal home conversion takes place when a property owner guts the interior of a one- or two-family home and subdivides the dwelling into multiple units in violation of city building codes.

The result of the shady construction is a dangerous situation in which large numbers of tenants are crammed into a living spaces designed to hold a small handful of people, housing preservationists charge.

Cassara formed the alliance a few years ago after becoming suspicious of construction work taking place in a house on his Bay Ridge Parkway block. “There were a lot of dumpsters,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle at the time.

The house in question came under scrutiny by Community Board 10, local elected officials and the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), which investigated the site as a possible illegal home conversion.

Cassara said DOB is inspecting more houses suspected of being illegal home conversions and is issuing more violations against property owners.

There is evidence that the city is putting more muscle behind its efforts to root out illegal home conversions.

In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill into law aimed at cracking down on sneaky landlords.

The new law, sponsored by City Councilmembers Vincent Gentile, Jumaane Williams and Barry Grodenchik and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, creates a special category called Aggravated Illegal Conversions and gives authorities more tools to combat the practice.

Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) said the new law is important because it takes a multipronged approach.

“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 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. 

Williams (D-Flatbush), who is 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.”

In two notable cases in Dyker Heights, DOB ordered tenants of a two-family house at 6705 Seventh Ave. to vacate the premises after inspectors found 31 people living there in August 2016. A few days later, the city issued a vacate order on a second house located nearby.


For more information on the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance, email [email protected].


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