BY JAIME DEJESUS
On Wednesday, May 10, a bevy of local lawmakers gathered on the steps of City Hall to announce that the City Council had voted unanimously for legislation that will increase penalties for illegally converted homes and hopefully curb the issue as a whole.
The bill, Intro 1218-A, also known as the Aggravated Illegal Conversion Bill, raises the stakes for those who allow three or more illegal dwelling units to be created within one structure due to the dangers it causes to tenants — an issue that has run rampant in neighborhoods across Queens, including Middle Village and Flushing. The bill passed 49-0.
The bill creates a hefty $15,000 fine for each individual unit that is three or more units above the Certificate of Occupancy. If the fine is unpaid for one year, the lien can be sold by the city.
Illegal conversions often have unsafe conditions and lack the required secondary means of egress, proper windows or ventilation, and secure utility lines. There have been instances in which such conditions have proven deadly; in November of 2009, three men died after a fire broke out in an illegal basement apartment in Woodside.
The legislation would also institutionalize the process of obtaining an access warrant to an alleged aggravated illegal subdivision — something that, before this bill, often proved difficult for authorities as landlords and homeowners contentiously shut out responding agents.
Under the new bill, after two unsuccessful attempts to gain access, the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) will then request the Law Department apply for an access warrant, allowing for a much smoother entry process.
“Unfortunately, some unscrupulous landlords are trying to exploit New York City’s long-standing housing crisis by setting up housing that is both unlawful and unsafe,” said City Councilman Barry Grodenchik, who co-sponsored the bill along with several other members of the Council’s Queens delegation. “Illegal conversions have had devastating effects on neighborhoods and in some cases have led to fatal accidents. Many tenants may be unaware that they are living in illegally converted units and facing potentially serious safety hazards. The bill should help deter property owners from creating these illegal and potentially dangerous units.”
Other Queens lawmakers supporting the measure include City Councilwomen Elizabeth Crowley and Karen Koslowitz and City Councilmen Daniel Dromm, Peter Koo, Rory Lancman, I. Daneek Miller, Eric Ulrich and Paul Vallone.
Residents are encouraged to report any suspected illegal conversions to the city’s 311 hotline. Click here for more information.
Additional reporting by Meaghan McGoldrick and Robert Pozarycki. This story was adapted from an article first published on Brooklyn Reporter, a sister site of QNS.