City fines Mandingo $27K on old house

Mandingo Tshaka
By Nathan Duke

Bayside community activist Mandingo Tshaka has been slapped with a $27,400 city fine following a June inspection of his home by the city Department of Buildings. But he said one violation at his house had been corrected, while another was invalid under former city zoning laws.

Tshaka said a DOB inspector showed up at his home on a residential street south of Northern Boulevard June 4 and told him that a complaint had been made that he was running an illegal rooming house. The inspector searched the home, which had been owned by Tshaka’s grandmother, Lillian Ely Selby, since the early 1900s, and took pictures.

But Tshaka told the inspector that he, his aide and two renters lived in the house, which is registered as a one-family home.

“The 1961 [city] zoning resolution makes it clear that you can have two people living in your home, and the third person I have there is my aide,” said Tshaka, who uses a wheelchair. “It’s as-of-right. My house was a hotel, but I called it a way station. I kept the tradition of my grandmother and continued to rent rooms.”

In late June, Tshaka said he had to appear before the city Environmental Control Board, where he was told the complaint against his home was an environmental issue. He was informed the home’s out-of-date locks needed to be replaced because they potentially posed a hazard in case of a fire. Tshaka said he had the locks changed shortly after the hearing, had the receipt for the work notarized and sent a it to the DOB.

On Aug. 28, Tshaka said a letter arrived at his home, which notified him that he was being fined $27,400.

The notice of violation from the ECB notified Tshaka that he owed $2,400 for a “residency altered for occupancy as dwelling from one or two families to four or more families” as well as a $25,000 fee for “additional daily penalty for an immediate hazardous violation.”

The letter was dated June 4, 2008, which prompted Tshaka to call the Environmental Control Board. He said he was told the date was a typographical error, but he is concerned that incorrect date could be contributing to the large amount of the fine.

An ECB spokeswoman said the DOB issued the fine to Tshaka, but that he must pay the fee to the city’s Finance Department.

But he contends he should not be fined at all because he has fixed his home’s locks.

“I don’t have that kind of money,” he said. “And I think they’ve been charging me since June 4, 2008. As a community activist, I understand about people retaliating against you. So if anyone has to be in order, it’s me.”

Paul Kerson, Tshaka’s attorney, said Tshaka’s grandmother had converted the home into a rooming house in 1935 under the tenets of 1916 zoning laws, which legalized rooming houses or hotels in residential neighborhoods. In 1961, the city ruled that rooming houses could not be constructed in these neighborhoods, but under grandfathering laws allowed existing structures to remain as long as they were not further altered.

“What I think must have happened is that [the ECB] didn’t believe him,” Kerson said. “The building hasn’t changed since 1935. It’s clear he should not have to pay any fine. This whole thing is outrageous.”

Kerson has appealed to the ECB’s appeals unit on Tshaka’s behalf.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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