By Rebecca Henely
Getting a low-rent apartment in a basement or attic might seem like a bargain, but state Assemblyman Francisco Moya’s (D-Jackson Heights) office and the city Department of Buildings took to the streets last Thursday to try to teach people that their converted dwelling may not just be illegal, but dangerous.
“We need to spread the word within immigrant communities so that everyone knows their families should not be subject to this,” Moya said in a statement.
Representatives from Moya’s office and the DOB handed out English/Spanish fliers called “Living Safely/Vivir con Seguridad” during the early-morning and returning-home rush hours at 103rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
The fliers, which are also available on the DOB’s website in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Haitian-Creole, Hindi, Korean, Russian, Urdu and Yiddish, describe the features of an illegal apartment and the dangers they cause. The flier says if the bedroom is in the cellar, if the apartment is in the attic, if the apartment receives electricity through an extension cord or the room is locked with a padlock, it could be illegal.
“A lot of people are not aware that the space they’re living in is illegal,” said Ryan Fitzgibbon, spokeswoman for the DOB.
The flier also recommends having two easy ways to get out of such an apartment, having a carbon monoxide/smoke detector in the apartment and reducing the use of space heaters.
Meghan Tadio, Moya’s chief of staff, said the assemblyman had partnered with the DOB on this issue because many in Queens, especially the immigrant communities that may not have as much access to information, are living in illegal conversions.
“Is your family’s lives worth the savings?” Tadio asked.
Fitzgibbon said the DOB receives more than 10,000 complaints a year about illegal conversions. While the DOB has been running its campaign since 2009 to ensure the safety of those who may live in these apartments, she said it is ultimately the building owner’s responsibility to make sure the apartments they are creating are safe.
For more information, go to nyc.gov/html/dob/html/homeowners_and_tenants/living_safely.shtml.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.