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Queens Chronicle

City still tackling illegal conversions

Department of Buildings hits sites in Queens with major penalties

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Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2019 10:30 am

A property owner in Corona was issued $106,000 in penalties in December for allegedly turning a two-family home on 96th Street into nine single-room occupancy units according to a report issued by the city’s Department of Buildings.

The DOB’s monthly enforcement bulletin for December 2018, issued Jan. 31, said the units in the house owned by Nelson Gonzalez at 50-16 96 St. had “locking devices for transient use.”

The penalty was the largest in the five boroughs, according to the bulletin.

Four other properties in Queens were named in the report, with owners or in one case a contractor receiving penalties ranging between $47,500 and $55,000. Two of those, according to the DOB, were related to illegal conversions.

“The dollar amount pales in comparison to lives likely taken because of these illegal conversions,” said Ryan Sit, the director of communications for City Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights). “The enforcement of laws and checking in on these units help keep property owners accountable. Hopefully property owners would think twice before shirking on their responsibility.”

The DOB bulletin also included summaries of city-imposed disciplinary actions, including penalties and license suspensions and revocations.

Moya wrote that property owners are putting renters in units that do not meet building or safety codes just so they can boost their profit margin. He also wrote that the illegal conversions pose a threat to people who don’t live in a divided building.

“These units can endanger the lives of firefighters and emergency personnel when they respond to incidents like the Case St. fire and enter an unfamiliar floor plan and shoddy construction,” the statement added.

Other properties cited in Queens in the December bulletin included 87-03 148 St. in Briarwood, where the owner was issued $51,750 in penalties for the illegal conversion of a legal two-family home into an illegal four-family home without DOB permits; and 209-28 23 Ave. in Bay Terrace, for $47,500 in penalties for violations related to the illegal conversion of a legal two-family home into an illegal four-family home by constructing illegal apartments in the cellar and on the first floor without DOB permits.

A total of $55,000 in penalties was issued to owner of 41-18 Haight St. in Flushing for various violations related to the illegal transient use of multiple apartments in the building, and inadequate means of egress and lack of fire alarm system.

The DOB also assessed violations of $50,250 against registered general contractor Pacific Rim for various worker and pedestrian safety-related violations on a construction site at 38-04 11 St. in Long Island City for violations including not keeping required site safety plans on site, missing guardrails and constructing a work platform that was not on the approved safety plans.

Joseph Marziliano, the district manager for Community Board 11 in northeastern Queens, said he was not surprised about the highest penalty because it is common that penalties for buildings in violation for illegal conversions exceed $100,000.

Marziliano said that combating the effects of illegal conversion of buildings is a big priority for his district because it can create dangerous situations.

“An illegal conversion condition is very alarming for our community because, let’s say you illegally convert a one-family building into a two-family usage, it’s very concerning for us because of the stress on the sanitation system, on the sewer system,” Marziliano said. “Of course, another problem with that is that you risk a lack of egress in case of a fire or other kind of emergency. If you have illegally converted a building, you may have a situation in which you have created a fire trap for your tenant. That’s a very big priority for us in this district and really across New York City.”

Councilmember Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), who is also on the Committee on Housing and Buildings, said the biggest difficulty that is faced is the ability to conduct random inspections. An inspection can only be done with a search warrant.

“I certainly hope we’ll continue to write housing laws that will promote the safety of everyone,” said Grodenchik, a co-sponsor of the Aggravated Illegal Conversion Bill that was passed in 2017. “We understand that it is difficult for everyone to get accommodations but at the same time we worry about the safety of everyone.”

According to citywide numbers in the DOB’s December bulletin, there were nine violations and $80,425 in penalties, including daily penalties, issued for illegal building alterations on three separate occasions; 14 violations and $165,843 in penalties, including daily penalties, issued for illegal transient use of buildings at four different locations; 55 violations and $625,000 in penalties issued for failure to safeguard construction sites on 46 separate occasions and 11 violations and $110,000 in penalties issued to 11 different individuals for failure to carry out duties as construction superintendents across the city.

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