When City Councilmember-elect Dan Halloran was running for the 19th District, he promised that one of the first things he would do if he got elected was “to go to the Department of Buildings [DOB] and get some answers.”
Halloran doesn’t take office until January, but on Wednesday, December 9 he took the first step – to the sidewalk outside the DOB offices in Borough Hall – and called them to task for “playing pin the tail on the homeowner.”
At the conference, in front of 120-55 Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens, Halloran charged that a survey of 580 DOB inspections over approximately six weeks between late-September and early November leads to some disturbing conclusions.
“In reviewing these documents we find that all of them shared the same violation; all are for one-family homes and all were instituted on the basis of ‘anonymous tips,’” Halloran said, adding, “This was just in College Point, and the sections of Flushing and Auburndale bordering on Whitestone.”
Since December of 2002, if DOB inspectors can’t get access to inspect, the department mails a “LS4 letter” to the property owner, instructing them to arrange for an inspection.
The city says it has been cracking down on “illegal alterations” after a series of incidents involving un-permitted apartments that have led to death and injury in fires.
DOB spokesman Tony Sclafani is quoted in published reports as saying, “Our records indicate that we responded to every one of the 538 illegal-conversion complaints within Community Board 7 in October and November.”
Halloran told The Courier, “They must be doing some of these inspections blindfolded.” He noted that some of the alleged “illegally converted” apartment houses were demolished years ago. “According to city records, one College Point house they supposedly tried to inspect was condemned in 2006.”
He also charged that, “The alleged complaints and inspections are clustered around specific lot numbers on multiple blocks.” Tax and building record are not organized by street addresses; blocks in each borough are numbered and so is each building lot on each block.
On one of the lots the DOB says they couldn’t gain entry to inspect sits Halloran’s own house.
According to a published report, Sclafani said that, after a recent complaint, inspectors could not gain access to the Halloran home, which was fined in February 2008 for the illegal construction of a bathroom in the basement.
Halloran reportedly said that the summons was due to construction inside his home shortly after he moved in and that he settled the issue when he paid the fine.
However, Sclafani noted that a “Certificate of Correction” is required to close the matter and none has been filed.
Halloran insists that, “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
“The individual owners of single family homes in northeast Queens don’t carve up their own residences into the kind of dangerous situations we see in other areas,” Halloran said. “But they are the low-hanging fruit for inspectors.
“I’d love the DOB to be conducting more inspections and to be on top of more issues in the 19th District – as long as they’re real inspections and real issues, like overdevelopment.”