Gentile’s Bill To Combat Illegal Home Conversions Receives Bipartisan Support

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Courtesy of Councilman Vincent Gentile's Office

Courtesy of Councilman Vincent Gentile’s Office

Councilman Vincent Gentile and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams rallied with members of the Dyker Heights community Monday afternoon, in support of City Council legislation they will introduce to increase the penalties for aggravated illegal conversions, which are defined as three or more illegal dwelling units being created within one structure, which threaten the safety of occupants and neighbors.

To prevent such incidents in the future, the proposed measure would establish a fine of at least $45,000 for aggravated illegal conversions — $15,000 for each unit — and expand the authority of the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) and the New York City Environmental Control Board (ECB) to inspect properties and impose fines and other penalties.

“These strong restrictions and penalties will force egregious property owners to comply with New York City’s building code,” said Gentile. “Substandard housing is not affordable housing. New York City may be called the ‘Big Apple’ but today we declare that we will not tolerate ‘Bad Apples’ who put the lives of low-income working families, immigrants, and the quality of our neighborhoods’ infrastructure and residential character at risk.”

The bill, also sponsored by Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, as well as Councilman Barry S. Grodenchik, was developed after a November 2014 fire in an illegal unit above a Flatbush church killed an individual and injured 16 others, destroying the building.

“Illegal home conversions are a high-risk symptom of the overall housing crisis we have in this City,” said Williams. “It is our responsibility as legislators to find these bad-acting landlords and thwart their illegal and very dangerous practices. It is also our responsibility to offer a realistic, affordable housing alternative to the residents. Illegal conversions are unsafe, as evidenced by the two major fires that took place in my district last year; they deteriorate the quality of life for residents and community members, and put a strain on local resources. All New Yorkers, regardless of race, socioeconomic or legal status, deserve a safe and quality place to call home.”

The aggravated illegal conversions bill provides that fines imposed by the ECB automatically create liens that, if unpaid, could be included in a lien sale, and adds aggravated illegal conversions to the list of offenses for which a vacate order could be issued due to immediately hazardous conditions. Additionally, if inspectors from the DOB fail to enter the premises after several attempts, this bill creates a procedure for the DOB to request a warrant for entry from the Corporation Counsel (Law Department).

Brooklyn Community District 10, which includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Fort Hamilton, has received more than 400 illegal conversion complaints in the past year, including a two-family home suspected of being converted to a six-family home. DOB had recently issued two Class 1 violations (immediately hazardous) at a site located a few blocks away from the location of Monday’s rally.

The results of these illegal conversions are sometimes deadly. Last year, the landlord of an illegally split Bath Beach home pled guilty to negligent homicide after a fire killed five Guatemalan immigrants and severely injured a baby girl — in part, because firefighters could not easily break through the maze of subdivided apartments.

“As we have learned from tragedy after tragedy, illegally converted homes present a serious threat to the health and safety of the families living there as well as to the entire surrounding neighborhood,” said Borough President Adams. “Fire escapes and other safety features we expect to have in our homes, which are required by law, are often absent in illegally converted housing units, and overcrowding has overwhelmed the capacity of communities such as Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights on fundamental quality-of-life matters.”

The anti-illegal conversion bill already has wide bipartisan support from southern Brooklyn elected officials — many of whom showed up to yesterday’s press conference — including Congressman Daniel Donovan, Assemblywoman Pamela Harris, Assemblyman Peter Abbate, Senator Marty Golden, and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

Additionally, Gentile has sponsored two other illegal conversion bills, introduced in 2014, and he has urged the Committee on Housing and Buildings to consider these bills as a package with the new aggravated illegal conversions measure:

  • Intro 393 would allow DOB to issue summonses and notices of violation based on externally observable circumstantial evidence of an illegal conversion, such as an excess of mailboxes, utility meters of the same kind, or doorbells on a building for the lawful number of dwelling spaces within that building.
  • Intro 439 would attack the problem before construction commences by revoking, suspending, or conditioning the self-certification privileges of architects and engineers whose faulty applications for permits have resulted in the issuance of a stop work order; in addition, it would require that notifications bearing information on the individuals who have been affected by such sanctions be distributed to the City Council.
  • Fuzzball

    Creating illegal parking pads/spots should also be dealt with next. People are turning previously parkable sidewalks into illegal “driveways” that cops are willing to write tickets for.

    • Amerigy

      It is the city which is forcing people to create these driveways. I was forced to install an extra driveway because my building was a legal 3 family. The city forced me to create an extra driveway, which actually cut into the back yard to comply with parking regulations for 3 family. It cost me over $2000. So don’t blame the owners, blame the city.

      • Sean F

        What you have is a legal driveway. What we are talking about are the illegal ones. The kind where people cement over their front garden, put up a No Parking sign, and expect people not to park in the perfectly legal parking space in front of it. When I see these, if there is no legal curb cut, I park there, regardless of whether someone is parked in the car port or not. These are the ones the City needs to have put back to their original construction.

        • Amerigy

          those must be reported to the building department. The city come down very hard on illegal diveways, too. contact the DOB and report them.

          • Fuzzball

            They write a summon. Owner pays a fine. And that’s it. My neighbor does it. Hasn’t caused him to get rid of that illegal pad.

          • Sean F

            It due to the lack of DOB investigators, which is why so many illegal conversions get past them. They need to hire up, and crack down on all this stuff.

  • Sean F

    I’m all for it. There is an illegal conversion happening on my block right now. It’s not even done, and there are several people already living in the house.

  • ZIPPER

    Dunno how I feel about this one. I’ve been to these rallies. Always has an underlying current of xenophobia and racism. I guess it doesn’t help that they are primarily targeting Asians.

    • Sean F

      Unfortunately, the current trend in illegal conversions is among Asians. My mother confronted an Asian real estate agent who was about to show an illegally constructed “apartment” to a family. She asked the woman how she could do this to her own people. The agent just ignored her.

      Frankly, I don’t care who is doing the illegal conversions. There is a clear and present danger to the residents and the neighbors, and the City must have more power to do something about it.

    • Drew B

      They are not ‘targeting’ Asians….nobody here is a ‘target.’

      You make yourself a ‘target’ when you take part in it it, OR make yourself an enabler, and don’t do anything about it.

      If these illegal conversions were spread among all races, then you wouldn’t reach so hard as to try to identify this as racism now, would you.

      • Drew B

        And to add to my comment, when you ask these Asian realtors about it, they pretend that they don’t know how to speak English all of a sudden….

  • Eddie

    Yup these rallies are full of xenophobia of the asians taking over but they should try to reinforce some of the unsafe conversions they do.

    During my house hunting a few years back almost all had illegal basements no one seemed to care back then when the Italians did it.

    • ZIPPER

      The politicians like saying that “this isn’t about Grandma Rizzo renting out her basement”. Problem is where are these people going to live? I don’t think they want to live in these dangerous conditions but what other choice do they have? If we kick them out of these homes, where will they go? Will Eric Adams let them live in a spare room at Borough Hall?

      • Emerald5Forever

        The politicians are also biased?

    • Emerald5Forever

      Hm, I would be nervous attending one of these rallies, because while I support the bill to combat illegal conversions, because of my appearance people may assume I do not.

    • sandracollettipolacco

      They did care, I am Italian and I had a basement/no stove. When I put in a stove I had to give up my stove in my apartment. So you are wrong here. The Asians are also renting their illegal basement and they do have stoves in it.

  • Drew B

    HA, funny how the Asians in the headline picture above allowed the rally to be held outside of their home….kinda ironic.

    Also, dont be blind to the facts, it’s the Asians and the Spanish who are a majority of people making these illegal conversions. It’s not a race issue, it’s facts. If it was the Jews or the Blacks making illegal conversions, the same scrutiny would apply to them as well.

    The fact that a majority of these conversions seem to center on a particular race, make it a race issue. It’s not racism.

    • Sean F

      There is the problem. It’s not about race. It’s about safety and the community. Period. It’s only about race when people make it about race, and when they do, they lose the argument.

      Basing the fight on race is just as illegal as the conversions. Race needs to stay out of the question. The city needs to shut down illegal conversions wherever they happen, whomever is doing them.

    • Sean F

      BTW, I know that house. The City did come in. They did shut it down, and did evict the residents. It’s been sitting unoccupied for almost a year now, losing the owner money, but the owner refuses to restore it to its former two family condition. All attempts to sell have failed because the City won this particular battle.

    • Emerald5Forever

      I also find it ironic…how did they give permission? Lol.

      I am Asian and I got to agree with you. There are Chinese people who are buying multi-family homes and illegally converting them into many units than the allowed amount. It can pose sanitation problems, and is a fire hazard that can cause deadly consequences. There was a fire at a building around Bay Parkway/20th Avenue a couple years ago, and because the upper floor was illegally converted into subunits, the firefighters were unfortunately unable to rescue people on time. I’m not sure if the landlord was Chinese or whatever, but it goes to show that illegal conversions are dangerous. I personally do not see the appeal of owning buildings carved up into cramped quarters…I am more content with a single- or two-family home that is not illegally converted.

      I agree it is not considered racism in this case, but like another commenter expressed, there is bound to be that rhetoric in these rallies. I guess it is a side effect/response to an issue attributed to one particular group.

    • Andy Z

      That is the meaning of stereotype. It’s like me saying all blacks are criminals because 80% of prison are black… Guess what.. majority doesn’t mean it’s right to section off a group… Illegal conversion or crime shouldn’t be tie to a group …

  • mario

    stupid idea… its too late Brooklyn is a Toilet Bowl already…

    • Sean F

      Toilet bowls are extremely important and vital devices to a healthy environment. I’d rather have a toilet bowl than live in the outhouses and landfills that are the places people who left Brooklyn went to.

  • Andy Z

    illegal conversions are created due to high rent cost and sky rocketing real estate. Why would someone convert a house unless there is a huge demand for lower rent. How else is a two family house value over 1m dollars to recoup that money back.. It’s great for all owners but bad for neighborhood…

    • Sean F

      That’s the point. If you want to spend millions on a rental property, you buy an apartment building, not a two family house. It’s a foolish investment made by people who only care about dollars, not their tenants and not the community. This is why it’s illegal and criminal if someone gets harmed by it.

      • sandracollettipolacco

        They pay over a million for the house, Tear down all the walls from the top floor to the basement. Dig out the basement which causes structural damage. Then they do the illegal conversion and divide the apartments and get rents for many apartments. They are smart and if they weren’t making money this would not be going on. My question is where do they get this money from, 1 million or more for the house, then the conversions costing 500,000.00 or more.

        • Sean F

          Oh, I know it works for them, sandracollettipolacco. But, it only works because the City isn’t enforcing the laws. If the City cracked down, as they did on the house in the photo above, this practice would end.

  • WhatAnInefficientUseOfTax$$$$s

    City should spend money reaching out in particular those new immigrants that are not English-speaking about the risk of staying in a illegally converted building, drive the demand down instead of penalizing case by case.