EXCLUSIVE: Gentile introduces legislation targeting illegal home conversions

Illegal home conversions have been proliferating in southwest Brooklyn at an increasing rate, as observed and documented by residents and community groups A new bill introduced on June 26 by Councilmember Vincent Gentile is part of that effort. The bill—referred to as Int. 393-2014—would change the city’s administrative code in order to allow Department of Buildings (DOB) inspectors to access a building based on circumstantial evidence, such as seeing “a greater number of mailboxes or mail receptacles. . . doorbells. . . operational utility meters” or HVAC units and air ducts than is legally authorized.

Such evidence would require DOB inspection, according to the bill.

Currently, inspectors can only access a site if the owner, contractor or a resident is present and allows them in. If an inspector still cannot access the site, the bill would allow them to issue a citation against the owner.

If a violation is deemed to have occurred, a minimum of fine of $1,000 could be levied and the offender’s name and address would be forwarded to the IRS, state Department of Taxation and Finance, and city Department of Finance.

“It is important that we get this right,” said Gentile. “Illegal conversions not only permanently change the contextual nature of our neighborhoods, but are unsafe for inhabitants and put tremendous strains on our local infrastructure – particularly our schools, which are overcrowded to begin with.”

Also possible to be targeted are offenders—both contractors and engineers—who have repeat violations, according to Josephine Beckmann, district manager at Community Board 10 (CB 10), who was present at a mid-July meeting between Gentile, the DOB, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and Borough President Eric Adams.

“It was nice to have this dialogue,” she said. “The DOB made some suggestions in reporting and looking at repeat offenders, so I learned how to report so inspectors have an eye on the ground. DOB also informed us that they’re keeping an eye on those who self-certify.

“Our office has been educating residents on how to utilize the 3-1-1 system and how to document and report illegal excavation, vibrations, etc.,” said Beckmann. “We also recommend residents call us so we can have the opportunity to request an audit to make sure the construction matches approved plans.”

Adams expressed his support for the changes, stating that his “office is committed to working with all our partners in government and our civic watchdogs to address these rogue development practices.”

Dyker Heights resident Bob Cassara called the meeting and legislation “good news” and said he looks forward to the resident coalition, Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance“People have moved in across the way at [controversial site] 978 Bay Ridge Parkway, even though there’s still the partial stop work order on it. How can DOB allow people to move in when there are issues with the foundation?” asked Cassara.

A fine of $1,500 was also issued on July 23 to the site owner for “failure to certify correction on immediately hazardous” conditions, according to the DOB website.

“All of this starts with the DOB and the self-certification process. Those are the things that need to be addressed,” added Cassara. “We’ve got to stop this from the get-go. Once you do that, buildings won’t flip and people won’t buy if they know they’ll have problems with the DOB.”

Asked for comment, DOB spokesperson Alex Schnell confirmed that the meeting took place, noting that its purpose was to discuss ways in which we might work together to address housing concerns and ensure the safety of buildings in south Brooklyn.

Over 100 signatures have thus far been collected on a petition to Mayor Bill de Blasio requesting a city task force against illegal home conversions.

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