City Council Votes to Combat Illegal Home Conversions
The City Council unanimously passed Intro 1218, which was proposed by City Councilman Vincent Gentile. The bill imposes stiff penalties on owners for illegal conversions. It targets owners of homes classified as “aggravated illegal conversions,” by imposing a $15,000 violation per three or more units above the legally allowed amount as stated in the home’s certificate of occupancy. If unpaid, the fine would be subject to a lien sale on the property.
The legislation also expands the authority of the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) and the New York City Environmental Control Board (ECB) to inspect properties and impose penalties.
The results of these illegal conversions have been deadly. In 2014, a fire in an illegal unit above a Flatbush church killed an individual and injured 16 others, destroying the building. Also in 2014, the owner of an illegally split Bath Beach home pled guilty to negligent homicide after a fire killed five Guatemalan immigrants and severely injured a baby girl—in part because firefighters could not easily break through the maze of subdivided apartments. And last year, 31 residents, with 13 children, were vacated from an illegally converted two-family home in Dyker Heights, after it was discovered they were living in hazardous conditions.
Two other illegal conversion bills from 2014 are working their way toward a vote. Intro 393 would allow DOB to issue summonses and notices of violation based on externally observable circumstantial evidence of an illegal conversion, such as an excess of mailboxes, utility meters, or doorbells on a building for the lawful number of dwelling spaces within that building. And Intro 439 would attack the problem before construction begins by revoking, suspending, or conditioning the self-certification privileges of architects and engineers whose faulty applications for permits have resulted in the issuance of a stop-work order; in addition, it would require that notifications bearing information on the individuals who have been affected by such sanctions be distributed to the City Council.