For more than three years, the city Department of Buildings knew that people were living in illegally converted residences at 91-21 90 St.
The landlord of the home lived in an illegal cellar apartment, according to city records dating back to December 2011.
The tenant on the first floor was Luis Lopez, who when asked to leave the house last Wednesday allegedly set fire to it, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
The flames spread to seven other houses on that block.
Another tenant on the second floor was forced to climb out the window to escape the fire, according to eyewitnesses.
And it seems that house was not the only one with illegal apartments.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said one of the homes damaged in the fire was found to have bunk beds in its basement, apparently being rented to several tenants.
Records show that a complaint was made last year about 91-31 90 St. stating that there were “a lot of teneants [sic] going in and out of the house. I believe that the basment [sic] was converted into rooms and there has been past constuction [sic].”
According to Ulrich, six summonses were written for those who had illegal conversions in their homes on that block.
The houses have been boarded up, according to a Twitter post from the 102nd Precinct.
Martin Colberg, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, and Ed Wendell, immediate past president of the group, both said they had not heard complaints about the house at 91-21 but added that illegal conversions are a longstanding problem in the community.
In 2014, more than 240 calls to 311 were made regarding illegal conversions within Woodhaven, public records state.
More than 40 have been made in 2015 so far.
Colberg said the possibility that illegal conversions led to the fire should be a warning sign to Mayor de Blasio’s plan to legalize basement dwellings in an effort to place or preserve an additional 200,000 units of affordable housing throughout the city.
“The city needs to look into this before they decide to legalize the basement dwellings,” Colberg said.
Wendell said where the city needs to take action is in enforcing the law against illegal conversions.
The landlord of 91-21 90 St. was fined $10,000 for the basement dwelling but it was never removed.
“It’s not apathy on the part of the residents,” Wendell said. “It’s apathy on the part of the city.”
He added that residents should file their complaints with the city and not just with each other, but that something then had to be done by the proper agency.
“They keep telling us ‘If you see something, say something.’ Well there’s a third part to that, ‘Do something’,” Wendell said.
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn) said in a memo obtained by the Chronicle that he is preparing three bills to combat illegal conversions, including one that would have the owners of illegitimate units pay the rent of tenants displaced from them.
Ulrich is co-sponsoring the bills. He added that those who break the law should be “criminally prosecuted.”