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Residents cited for fallen trees owned by city

By Phil Corso

Homeowners affected by fallen city trees in the wake of Hurricane Sandy were irate when they learned the city Department of Buildings had placed violations on their homes.

After the superstorm swept through northeast Queens toppling trees and power lines, West Cunningham Park Civic Association board member Linda Gordon said she saw neighbors throughout her community, including residents of Fresh Meadows, Bayside Hills and Glen Oaks, be given violations because city trees had fallen on their buildings.

Meanwhile, Gordon said her neighbors were unable to remove those violations because residents are not permitted by law to handle city trees.

“I find that handing a distressed homeowner a violation is a very inept and harassing way to keep track of damages,” Gordon said. “At the very least, there should be a different form given out explaining what the DOB is doing and who to contact for a prompt answer to questions.”

According to the DOB, violations placed on homes must be fixed in accordance with the building code or else a financial penalty is implemented. Homeowners or contractors must first get building permits before repairs are made, the DOB said, to ensure that the repairs are made to the standards of the city building code.

Community Board 8 District Manager Marie Adam-Ovide said she had reached out to the Buildings Department after receiving several complaints from residents throughout the community and was told that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had building inspectors survey the borough to gather accurate assessments of the damages. CB 8 covers the Fresh Meadows area.

“The inspectors issue DOB violations and this alarmed the residents,” Adam-Ovide said.

But because of an uproar from both city residents and elected officials, the Buildings Department moved to correct how it assessed Sandy’s wrath, CB 8 said. According to a DOB spokesman, affected homeowners will now receive notices of deficiencies under the complaint, not a violation.

Gordon said so many of her neighbors in northeast Queens would see city workers pull up to their homes, surrounded by fallen trees after the storm, and receive “failure to maintain” violations instead of assistance in removing the city trees. In response, members of the West Cunningham Park civic joined with other local groups, including the Bayside Hills civic and Glen Oaks Village to call on the Buildings Department to re-evaluate its practices.

“For now, I’d like to think all these ‘failure to maintain’ violations were a bureaucratic blunder,” said Michael Feiner, president of the Bayside Hills Civic Association. “Only time will tell if our government will learn to restore disaster damage more quickly and logically.”

State Sens. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) wrote letters to Bloomberg with hopes of having the violations rescinded.

In a letter addressed to Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, Peralta brought attention to the more than 8,000 city trees that had fallen after the storm, with more than half attributed to Queens. The senator called on both the city Parks and Buildings departments to work to alleviate the most vulnerable residents before winter arrives.

“The city should be helping people, not giving them a violation that threatens them with criminal prosecution while going through one of the worst natural disasters this city has ever seen,” Avella said. “Such conduct by a city agency issuing violations rather than assisting in recovery is truly offensive.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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