Guest Op-Ed: Tackling illegal conversions

At its June 16 general meeting, Community Board 10 Zoning Chair Ann Falutico reported, “The proliferation of illegal residential conversions continues to be a major problem. Illegal conversions are contrary to the intents of the recently enacted preservation zoning and greatly increase the density in neighborhoods throughout the city. Although this is a complex social issue, illegal conversions threaten the quality of life for all residents and creates a strain on public amenities and services.”

Public safety will always be our top priority in addressing concerns about illegal conversions taking place in our community and citywide. The specific types of illegal conversions of greatest concern involve homebuyers taking one or two-family houses and then subdividing them into illegal apartments.This practice is not only unlawful, it is dangerous.No family should live under unsafe, substandard illegal conditions.

Residents adjoining illegally converted properties should not have to be afraid of the threat of fire caused by a faulty construction job or that attached foundations have been undermined by illegal excavation.

To that end, we have been working closely with the FDNY, the Department of Buildings and the mayor’s special multi-agency Housing Access Task Force to crack down on dangerous illegal conversions.

We are also always on the lookout for illegal construction activity in our community and will make sure that all complaints are investigated immediately by the appropriate agencies. We are working together with neighbors to make sure that agencies are responding to complaints about illegal construction and illegal conversions.

On the legislative side, we are working on a bill that would allow the Department of Buildings to use circumstantial evidence when determining if a building has been illegally converted.

Often times, the Buildings Department has a hard time gaining access to inspect these properties. Department policy requires inspectors to try again, and if they fail twice, the case is closed.

My bill would allow inspectors who couldn’t gain access to still cite a building owner if there was circumstantial evidence of illegal conversion – such as too many mailboxes, doorbells, garbage cans or utility connections – was found.

Further, we will be looking into ways to penalize licensed professionals who repeatedly submit self-certified plans that do not reflect actual work performed and are issued violations for work contrary to approved plans, excavation, electrical or plumbing work without permit.

To report what you believe may be an illegal conversion or alteration of a residence, please call: Office of Councilman Vincent J. Gentile (718-748-5200) orCommunity Board 10 Office (718-745-6827).

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