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A city housing inspector is accused of illegally converting the basement of a home on 196th Street in St. Albans, and his own Rosedale residence, into illegal apartments.

Do as he says, not as he does.

An inspector with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) was booked Tuesday on charges that he illegally converted two homes that he owns into multiple-family dwellings, placing the lives of tenants in danger.

 

Derrick Allen, 58, of 255th Street in Rosedale was charged as a result of an investigation triggered by a tenant’s complaint last month to the city’s 311 hotline regarding the illegal conversions.

HPD inspectors are tasked with ensuring that all property owners follow the housing code and keep their buildings safe for all residents. But, according to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, Allen allegedly chose not to hold himself to the same standards so he could make as much money as possible.

“Such illegal housing puts a strain on local services such as parking, transportation, waste disposal and schools,” Brown said in a statement. “But most important, such conversions jeopardize the lives of not only the buildings’ residents, but firefighters and other personnel who in responding to an emergency are confronted by a maze of rooms with no way out.”

The investigation began in August, prosecutors said, when 311 received a complaint from a tenant living in the basement of Allen’s 255th Street home. The residence is a registered two-family home, and the zoning regulations for the site mandate that the basement be only used for storage.

On Aug. 26, law enforcement sources said, an HPD inspector visited the 255th Street home and found that the basement had been illegally divided into four single-room occupancy (SRO) dwelling spaces. Each SRO was separated by drywall and had a kitchen and a bathroom.

The inspector additionally discovered other hazards including an operable gas stove pulled away from the wall and a lack of two means of egress. After issuing violations for having inadequate means of egress and illegal gas and water lines, the inspector further ordered the cellar vacated.

Six days later, on Sept. 1, inspectors with the Department of Buildings and the Department of Investigation (DOI) executed a search warrant at a second building that Allen owns on 196th Street in St. Albans. They found in the basement an illegal two-bedroom apartment with only one means of egress and two bathrooms. Violations were issued for unlawful occupancy of the cellar as well as work without a permit and illegal gas and water lines.

Allen was charged Tuesday with second-degree reckless endangerment and two violations of the city’s administrative code. He faces up to a year in prison if convicted.

“We have zero tolerance for employees who would abuse their position and endanger the safety and well-being of tenants,” HPD Commissioner Vicki Been said. “The moment this agency became aware of the allegations, the case was referred to DOI, and the inspector was suspended without pay pending the investigation.”

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