31 Residents — Including 13 Children — Removed From ‘Heartbreaking’ Conditions In Illegally Converted Dyker Heights Home

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This two-family at 6705 7th Avenue, was forcibly vacated after it was discovered that 31 people were living at the location. (Source: Google Maps)

An illegally converted two-family home in Dyker Heights was vacated last week, after it became apparent that 31 people — including 13 children — were living in hazardous conditions at the location.

A Community Board 10 (CB 10) task force, comprised of Fire Department and Department of Buildings (DOB) officials who investigate illegal conversion complaints, enforced an immediate vacate order at 6705 7th Avenue on Thursday, August 4, and found extreme overcrowding, lack of egress, fire safety concerns, as well as compromised plumbing, electrical and gas work at the site, according to DOB records and elected officials with knowledge of the situation.

CB 10 District Leader Josephine Beckmann, who visited the location Friday morning as the five families were packing up, said she witnessed poor ventilation and other hazards, particularly in a rear garage where a poorly constructed kitchen had been installed four adults and three children were housed.

“It was very, very heartbreaking,” said Beckmann. “If you can imagine, the garage door was sealed, and bars were installed on the windows. One of the windows in the back had been converted into a door, so you can imagine what would happen if there was ever a fire.”

All five families were temporarily relocated by the American Red Cross at a nearby Days Inn for three days, after which social service agencies were tasked with finding them more permanent housing, according to Beckmann.

DOB records indicate that at least four complaints were made about the home, dating back to 2010, when a neighbor reported suspicious construction, plus excessive dust and noise at the site. Last month, neighbors reported seeing a least 25 people living in the two-family home.

Permits for the 2010 construction were filed by Zeyn B. Uzman, of the Sunset Park’s Airitan Management, which has since closed. When we called the cellphone number listed on DOB records, a man who answered the phone told us we had “the wrong number.” Hou Yu Zhou is listed as the current landlord.

There have been growing calls in Dyker Heights for the city to crack down on hazardously converted homes, which — aside for posing serious fire and health concerns for inhabitants — put a strain on local resources like schools, sanitation, and plumbing. Housing preservationist groups, like the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance — headed by Bob Cassara — have charged the DOB with being largely unresponsive to the more than 100,000 housing-related complaints — more than 26,000 of them related to illegal home conversions — that were registered with the agency in 2014.

While the DOB sometimes fines landlords up to $600 per tenant for unlawful construction, the agency has struggled with enforcement. As of October, the city was owed more than $600 million in outstanding building-related fines.

A City Council bill recently proposed by Councilman Vincent Gentile, Intro 1218, targets landlords of homes classified as “aggravated illegal conversions.”  If passed, the landlord would be fined $15,000 per each unit beyond the certificate of occupancy. If unpaid, the fine would be subject to a lien sale on the property among additional penalties.

“We know that this case is likely one of many in my district and citywide,” said Gentile. “Time is of the essence for this viral developer scheme to be put to an end. My patience is running short as residents, many of who are immigrants, continue to be put in grave danger unbeknownst to them. From there, a negative domino effect ensues, degrading the quality of life for the neighborhood as schools become overcrowded and city services become overwhelmed.”

Some immigrant advocates in southern Brooklyn have criticized the legislation, saying that it fails to adequately account for the displacement of residents of these illegally converted homes, particularly the elderly or undocumented laborers, who may choose to live under these conditions for below-market rents.

  • Sean F

    Time for the City to start a taskforce to shut down these places. So many lives in danger because of greedy landlords. Any immigrant advocate who thinks that it’s OK because these people “chose” to live there is doing a terrible job.

  • sandracollettipolacco

    This has gotten out of hand. Must make a law that allows inspectors in the house. They ring the bell and no one answers. After three tries, case is dropped.

    • Sean F

      Sadly, privacy laws would trump (no pun intended) any attempts for legal authorities to enter properties without permission. It’s been tested in court already, and is proving to be a very difficult bar to more stringent legislation and enforcement.

  • ROSALIE907

    The City needs to do something about these illegal homes ASAP. Can you imagine if there was a fire like the one at the illegal apartment on 86th Street a few years ago? We’re talking peoples lives here and if there is a fire or another emergency we’ll all be asking why more couldn’t be done. Lets do something before there are any injuries or deaths.

  • Bklynstrong

    Legislation needs to be passed to make the landlords/owners of the property be know and a picture of the owners on the certificate of occupancy. If they don’t pay then they need to be locked up. That’s one of the ways this city will eradicate over occupancy and illegal conversions. Until then WE as a community need to be aware and report/express relentlessly to our community leaders about this matter. Over occupancy is a strain on our quality of life, our resources and our safety. There is no justification for over occupancy. The owners are not in it for affordable housing they are in it for pure greed and pure profit. These properties are not maintained inside or out. It’s a straight up money making machine taking advantage of illegal immigrants.

    • Sean F

      I’d take it a step further, and fine any real estate agent who knowingly sells an illegal conversion, or assists in renting it out.

    • goldenboy77

      what about the jews in bough park they will never comply I had a jew who rented rooms
      illegal I called the city a number of times they never responded or did anything
      the jews do this as well

      • Sean F

        Also, sadly, a double-standard in enforcement. Wealthy English speaking people get away with things poorer non-English speaking people can’t get away with.

  • joed

    YEA SO GIVE THEM MONEY ND NEW HOUSING BECAUSE THEY CAN’T DO THE RIGHT THINGS FOR THEMSELVES . OUR GOVERNMENT ARE A BUNCH OF FOOLS

    • Sean F

      Actually, it’s called compassion. Many of these immigrants don’t know what they are getting into. They come from places where there are no zoning or occupancy laws. They don’t know the dangers. So, if we’re going to pull them out of their homes, we can’t just dump them on the street. They are still human beings, entitled to basic human dignity.

      Oh, and the government isn’t giving them new housing automatically. They are putting them in a hotel for a couple of days so they can find someplace legal to live.

      • goldenboy77

        legal to live ho ho ho a one bedroom apt is 900 hundred 2 bedrooms 1500 or more
        where do they get the money to pay for that working in Chinese take out

        • Sean F

          The thing with these families is that there isn’t only one bread-winner. There may be some government benefits involved, but the whole family pitches in. Dad works 60-80 hours per week. Mom works. Grandma and Grandpa babysit for free (and maybe take in a few bottles – I know a family where the grandparents were clearing over $500 per week in bottle money, plus winning countless soda company contests with the codes on the bottle caps). Chinese meals are high in low-cost ingredients, and low in expensive cuts of meat, and portions are generally smaller than American fare, so food is affordable. If there’s space available, they probably grow some of their own vegetables, and save money that way. The kids excel in school, and go on to successful careers, where they pay back and take care of their elders. And, when there are times of trouble, better off relatives are much more willing to share their resources than most American famiies are. In short, they work at it.

          • Evan1407

            The bottle collectors work all night rummaging through the trash bags on the street. I’ve seen them in the morning with 4 or 5 garbage bags full of bottles and cans.

  • Robert D

    You”ll never understand our city unless you read or watch the history of it. Watch Burn’s NY and you will see that NY is a revolving door for immigrants poor and rich. It will constantly change and there will be no slowing it down or stopping it. The old neighborhoods are gone, there will always be a block or too but our communities are different. If you can’t assimilate with change then you will die in your home a bitter curmudgeon and your kids will sell it for a million dollars as you still grow cold in the ground. There’s communities North, West, and South of us where you can have what you want again. Time to migrate and stop complaining.

  • MJ

    the problem is the city has not built any new public housing for many decades, so the task of providing affordable housing falls to opportunistic landlords (or hotels for homeless shelters).

    • Sean F

      There isn’t all that much free space left for public housing. Where would the City build a 21st Century Starrett City?

  • TrainWreckNYC

    I’ll do you one better… How many decisions nationwide, and how many in NYC, were influenced by the 2010 Census?
    Financial, resource allocation, policy, etc. How many schools to build, teachers to hire; subway cars, buses, and the available seats therein; Police, Fire, EMT, hospital beds, city services; Roads, bridges and tunnels… So many choices made on our behalf, by the elected (and unelected), that affect our lives everyday, based on incredibly flawed information gathered in a completely voluntary process, where the estimates to fill in the gaps could never have imagined thousands of dwellings such as these across our cities. Especially OUR city.
    When quick news blurbs announced the results of that census, that NYC in particular had actually LOST population, I knew that it had failed miserably. Because in my decades in this town, I can’t remember a time where it was more packed, elbow to elbow. Every highway, classroom, train, sidewalk, and park, filled to capacity.
    And it is chopped up homes like these that hide millions of extra residents, overlooked, and uncounted.

    • Veal Parmigiana

      I work[ed] for the Census in 2010 as an expert adjudicator. My job was to read the data from census forms that were dinged as incorrect or missing information. Then I interviewed the families for clarification.
      My anecdotal experience is that immigrant populations were afraid to admit the number of people living in their household for fear of repercussions. It makes sense – why would you tell the government the truth, when that same government is the one that will deport you or remove vital social services? They weren’t aware of the separation of government departments, and few could be convinced. (For this reason, a large chunk of our country’s population is never counted. Despite this, today’s Census is far more accurate than earlier U.S. Census Data.)

      The data is further skewed by people who do not understand the form, or believe they are helping by claiming fewer residents.
      There are also people who willingly and intentionally mislead on the form, but these people are far less common.

      The census is not voluntary. You are required by federal law to participate, though they are unlikely to ever prosecute you if you fail to reply.

      According to the U.S. Census Bureau, for the last year on record (July 2014 to July 2015), New York City grew.

  • Jesus from The Bible

    The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many
    friends. (Proverbs 14:20); For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was
    thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I
    was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in
    prison and you came to me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36)

  • King Mills

    It’s not just the illegal home conversions. My assumption has always been, those who live illegally, are illegals in this country. How many of these people are not even supposed to be here in the first place? ICE should be called along with the housing authority.

    • Yeah Right

      MANDATORY ENGLASH TEST FOR EVERY MEXASIANS OR WHATEVER (LIKE GIANT PIZZA RATS) EVICTED UNLESS THEY WEAR A MAKE AMERCIA GRATE AGAIN HAT!!!

      yeah right.

      • King Mills

        What? Illegal is illegal. Doesn’t matter who they are. There is a right way and a wrong way in life. Supporting illegal activity makes you just as much a criminal.

        • Evan1407

          They don’t care. It’s all about the almighty dollar.

  • Jesus from The Bible

    Do not take away the property of the poor man because he is poor, or be
    cruel to the crushed ones when they come before the judge:
    (Proverbs 22:22)