THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK

OFFICE OF COUNCIL MEMBER 

JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS
 

CONTACT: William Gerlich, 917-608-8784

wgerlich@council.nyc.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

1:00 P.M. EST, March 9, 2015

WILLIAMS, ADAMS & GENTILE ANNOUNCE ILLEGAL HOME CONVERSION BILL TO PREVENT FIRE FATALITIES
Council Member Jumaane D. Williams stood with Council Member Vincent Gentile (left), Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (right) and housing advocates in front of an illegally converted apartment and church which burnt down earlier this year to announce new legislation to combat illegal home conversions and the grave dangers they cause.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ernest Skinner, NYC COUNCIL

BROOKLYN, NY Yesterday,  Council Member Jumaane D. Williams  (D-Brooklyn) ,   Deputy Leader and Chair of the Council's Housing and Buildings Committee, stood with Brooklyn Borough President  Eric Adams , Council Member Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn) , Deputy Leader and Chair of the Council's Oversight and Investigations Committee  and others to announce legislation co-prime sponsored by the Council Members at the request of the Borough President to combat illegal home conversions. Often, illegal home conversions don't have fire escapes and other emergency exits, which was the case in a recent two-alarm fire that  occurred  in an  illegally  converted unit above  Eglise Baptiste Clarte Celeste Church on 1434 Flatbush Avenue in East Flatbush.

The press conference was held in front of the building's remains, where o ne of the victims said he was still displaced from the fire and was living on the street. According to reports, the fire claimed the life of one community member,  injured five and displaced 16. After discussing the legislation to combat such fires, e lected officials and activists encouraged community members to 'change their clocks and change their smoke detector batteries,' in an effort to protect tenants by passing out batteries provided by FDNY for daylight savings time.

"Illegal home conversions have been putting New Yorkers in harm's way for decades, especially in my district, where we have seen two major fires in converted apartments this past year alone," said Council Member Williams. "Our bill aims to comprehensively end this housing issue once and for all by introducing a number of penalties on bad-actor landlords and gives building inspectors more resources to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. This bill is not aimed at homeowners with basement apartments, but at those who egregiously slice and dice units with no regard to the safety of their tenants. I would like to thank the Borough President and Council Member Gentile for working with me to combat illegal conversions, and look forward to getting this legislation through the Council quickly."

 

"This legislation is the most significant, proactive effort to date to tackle the illegal conversion crisis, where the safety of Brooklynites in dangerous 'cubicle living' lies in the balance. For the first time, we would properly address the displacement problem that occurs when enforcement on these units occurs, helping to prevent homelessness for innocent families. I thank Council Members Gentile and Williams for joining me in introducing this important bill, and I look forward to working with the City Council on it in the months ahead," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.  

 

"Illegal conversions are dangerous, especially to those most vulnerable, such as immigrants, many of whom are unaware that the places they call home are illegal because they are unsafe," said Council Member Gentile. "Illegally converted homes are often places of serious violations of New York City's fire code, overcrowding, faulty wiring, and structural unsoundness caused by illegal excavation and overbearing of weight. It's time we take a stand once and for all against the unscrupulous landlords, architects, and engineers who profit off of the harm they do to our constituents, to our neighborhoods, and to our housing market!"

 

The problem of illegal conversions and cubicle living has persisted for at least 4 decades in NYC. Cubicle living occurs when a property owner, usually in a 1-3 family home, (though occasionally in larger buildings), takes a house or apartment and subdivides it into several tiny living spaces. They are often in basements, always in violation of existing Building and Fire Codes, are considered extraordinarily dangerous due to the fact that they lack proper ingress/egress and generally have unlawful and dangerous electrical wiring.

 

The legislation is expected to be introduced at the Council's upcoming stated meeting and will:

  • Create a new building code violation category, known as aggravated illegal conversion; this section would penalize any property owner who creates three or more living units in a single unit or part of a unit without proper permits.
  • Extend the availability of access warrants to investigate suspected illegally converted homes to a broader spectrum of signs; this would be based upon the extraordinarily unsafe state of the building and the emergency nature of the problem. Building inspectors, upon gaining access, would have the ability to take quick action to have illegal units vacated immediately.
  • Establish a fine for violating this new section at $15,000 per illegal unit; all fines would go to a designated agency fund for use in housing displaced tenants for a three-month period, and for the cost of administering the program. A City agency (like the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development) would be charged with finding suitable housing for the displaced tenant.
  • Dictate that violations or fines for violating this section shall be lienable against the real property, superseding all but emergency repair liens; these liens may be sold in the same fashion as a delinquent water bill.

The components of this bill will make the reporting and enforcement of illegal conversions easier, while also protecting housing opportunities for tenants currently living in unsafe conditions. 

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