By Bill Parry
An Elmhurst couple were indicted on charges that they endangered the lives of up to 15 people living in a one-bedroom house on Forley Street, which they converted into five single-room occupancies, despite a city order requiring the tenants to vacate the premises, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced Tuesday.
Segundo Chimbay, 53, and his wife, Maria Chimbay, 52, are awaiting arraignment in Queens Supreme Court on an 18-count indictment. If convicted, each could face up to seven years in prison.
“The defendants are accused of trading the safety of their tenants for cold, hard cash,” Brown said. “In addition to putting a strain on city services, such as parking, transportation, waste disposal and schools, illegal conversions endanger the lives of residents as well as firefighters and other personnel who, in responding to an emergency, would have been confronted by a maze of rooms with no way out.”
The indictment is a result of a multi-agency initiative to crack down on dangerous and illegal housing in Queens, and Brown said his office would “vigorously prosecute” those who profit from such illegal housing. Tenants at the Forley Street home paid $750 to $1,400 a month, in cash, despite the eviction notice from the city.
“The defendants flouted vacate orders and constructed dangerous, illegal conversions that endangered the lives of residents, according to charges,” city Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said. “One of the defendants is a recidivist offender, having engaged in a serial disregard for the city’s building codes and arrested previously by DOI for the same conduct.”
An inspection by the Department of Building in May 2016 found that the building had been “illegally converted to or maintained as a dwelling for occupancy by four or more families.” A follow-up DOB inspection last year found sleeping quarters in the basement, three SROs on the second floor and an additional SRO at the attic level, and all 15 occupants sharing a common kitchen on the first floor.
“Renting illegal apartments can not only cost bad-actor landlords $50,000 or more in fines, but it can also cost them their freedom,” Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler said.
“Illegal apartments often lack basic safety standards, such as having two exits in case one is blocked by a fire. We issue vacate orders only as a last resort, when there’s an immediate risk to tenants’ safety. Putting renters back in dangerous living spaces, as the defendants are alleged to have done, shows complete and utter disregard for people’s lives.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr