The Civic Scene: Give the DOB an easier way to determine illegal occupancy

By Bob Harris

Queens Department of Buildings Commissioner Ira Gluckman was greeted with questions and comments on how to be more efficient. Community Board 8 Chairman Alvin Warshaviak had the board’s Public Safety Committee deliver its report on the number of houses rented out to St. John’s University students illegally.

Owners rent out houses to more than four unrelated students, thus causing overcrowding, litter, and noisy parties. This set the stage for the visit. The commissioner made some short statements, then answered questions and got suggestions on how the DOB can better maintain the quality of life in Jamaica Estates and Fresh Meadows.

The problem with these houses rented out to students is that the DOB cannot gain entrance to them easily. It can come to the door, but residents do not have to let the inspector in to inspect the houses for illegal rooms or too many students occupying the houses. After two attempts to gain entrance, the case is closed until someone else calls to complain.

If someone wants to sign an affidavit saying he or she saw illegal occupancy, the DOB will go to a judge and obtain a search warrant to gain entrance. One of the CB 8 board members asked about multi-agency investigations of illegal occupancies. The FDNY can gain entrance if it believes fire poses a threat.

CB 8 took a stand against the change in procedure when applying for a Street Activity Permit for a community event. In the past, people could apply to the community board for a permit to close a street for an event. The board would discuss the event, note any past problems caused by such an event and approve or oppose the street closing.

Now a person just applies to the Street Activities Office, thus bypassing the community where this event would take place.

CB 8 believes this is another action which is leaving out communities from things that affect them, thus giving the city government more power over the outer boroughs. Recently, the Department of City Planning passed a 45-day rule, up from 30 after civic associations complained.

This rule states that the community only has 45 days to complain if it believes plans for a development are wrong or would have a negative effect on the community. We will have to see how this works out. Also, if the city wanted to make houses safer, it would figure out a way for inspectors to gain entrance to them.

CB 8 had previously voted that New York state curtail drilling for natural gas within the boundaries of the upstate watershed of the city drinking water supply.

The natural gas is mixed in the shale and large quantities of water and various chemicals are pumped into the shale to free the gas. The problem is that some of these chemicals are toxic and cancer-causing and can easily flow into our drinking water.

If chemicals got into our water supply, we would have to spend more than $10 billion to build a filtration system to clean the water. The City Council voted to back a resolution from Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) that asked Albany to ban this drilling in our upstate watershed and the federal government to better regulate the hydraulic fracturing practice of extracting natural gas from shale.

CB 8 voted unanimously to extend the state deadline for public comment beyond Nov. 30 by at least 120 days.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Bus driver Jorge Munoz of Jackson Heights is being honored for his philanthropic activities of spending every night for the past five years serving meals to needy Queens residents. He spends his own money to buy food and serves it from the back of his pick-up truck. The activity has grown into a nonprofit organization, An Angel in Queens.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: News reports show the recession is still hurting people. Some people who lost jobs cannot find work. I read of one woman who makes a few dollars walking dogs and working in a library a few hours a week for low hourly wages. She is keeping out of a homeless shelter because friends let her sleep on their sofas for a few days at a time.

A college degree does not seem to help because she is competing with younger people who live at home and can get by on lower salaries. Then there are foreclosures. With our city, state and federal governments collecting taxes and with many people in their bureaucracies, they should be able to find ways to help people who want to work and save their homes.

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