Illegal apartments lead to decline in area’s quality of life

By Bob Harris

People often buy a house or rent a legal apartment in a neighborhood which has a good quality of life. Communities are zoned in such a way so as to protect the quality of life there. The zoning dictates the size of the houses and thus how many people can live in the dwellings. If a resident thinks a neighbor is violating the zoning laws, he or she can file a complaint with the local community board or with the city Department of Buildings.

Illegal apartments in a cellar, the part of a building where more than half the height is below curb level, are dangerous because often there is only one way out, they have toilets which might overflow with sewer water, have poor ventilation and add more people to a building than it was originally build for. Illegal apartments in upper floors could make them firetraps and add more people to the building. More people mean more garbage, more cars parked everywhere and often trash on the property.

People buy a house in a neighborhood with trees, lawns, bushes, schools nearby and parks with garbage cans not overflowing. Illegal apartments often bring in people who just live there and do not care how the property looks. Some developers put in several illegal conversions so they can make money. Some neighborhoods have many such houses. Yes, some nice people often buy a house, take care of it and want to rent out rooms to make money to pay the mortgage. They can only do so, however, if the zoning permits them to do so.

But if we let the “nice” people violate the zoning laws, others will do so and the excess people will overwhelm the sewer pipes, parking spaces and school space and cause fires, which will destroy adjoining houses. A nice neighborhood can go downhill fast if the zoning resolution is violated and too many people fill up the neighborhood. Illegal apartments affect first one house, then another, then a block deteriorates, then the next blocks starts to look disreputable and then a whole area turns into a slum.

There are groups that are saying that parts of a house should be permitted to add apartments. It sounds good to say that people need places to live. Developers always want to build more to make money. Some people buy a house so they can divide it up to make money. It is up to our government to find ways for banks to lend money to people who want to build legal dwellings in non-flood-prone areas. It is up to our government officials to protect our Queens communities.

Do you know that last year the DOB received 18,126 complaints about illegal conversions? Queens had the most due to our civic pride, given our many active civic and block associations, which constantly fight to preserve and improve our neighborhoods.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: The wheels of justice turned for the Long Island Rail Road retirees who went to crooked doctors and received fake disability pensions.

When the scandal broke a few years ago, it seemed most of the LIRR retirees had disability pensions. It made civil service retirees like me who worked their whole lives and did the right thing, had an age-related illness and retired legally feel like jerks.

Happily, justice is catching up with these people. The other day, the 27th and 28th people pleaded guilty to mail, wire and health care fraud conspiracy for receiving benefits based on bogus medical conditions. No wonder our government has such high debts.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: It seems the cost of medicines is steadily rising even as people are being dissuaded from purchasing medicines overseas.

Why should the same asthma inhaler sell for $250 here but cost about $50 in Europe?