Elmhurst couple charged with illegally converting one-family home to house 15 people

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An Elmhurst couple was charged with endangering the lives of up to 15 people who have been living in the couple’s illegally converted one-family home, according to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.

Prosecutors said that Segundo Chimbay, 53, and his wife, Maria Chimbay, 52, of 94th Street converted a home they own at 40-33 Forley St. into five single-room occupancies. Tenants were living in the cellar, second floor and attic and shared a kitchen on the first floor.

The Chimbays were collecting rents between $750 and $1,400 a month in cash from tenants even though they were served with a city order that required tenants to vacate the premises. A complaint was filed against the property on March 14, 2016, that the owners had illegally converted the one-family home.

The Department of Buildings (DOB) inspected the property that day and found that four or more families were living there, which resulted in a vacate order. Almost one year later, on Feb. 15, 2017, a follow-up investigation found one bedroom in the cellar, three bedrooms on the second floor and one bedroom in the attic. In March 2017, DOB witnessed that conditions in the house had not changed.

“Putting renters back in dangerous living spaces, as the defendants are alleged to have done, shows complete and utter disregard for people’s lives,” said DOB Commissioner Rick D. Chandler. “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.”

According to Brown, the couple also told their tenants that it was legal to live in the home and continued to collect rent.

“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 building 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 couple were charged on an 18-count indictment of first-degree scheme to defraud, fourth-degree grand larceny,  second-degree reckless endangerment, and 15 violations of the New York City Administrative Code.

They face seven years in prison if convicted and were ordered to surrender their United States passports. Their next court date is April 9.

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