Just a week after a standing-room-only town hall brought Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge residents face to face with representatives of the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB), the agency has responded to specific concerns raised at the meeting by revoking the permits for two Bay Ridge Parkway homes that residents contend have been converted into illegal single room occupancy buildings.
The agency confirmed on Thursday, March 12 that, “The Brooklyn Borough Office has sent the applicant Notices to Revoke their permits” to the owners of 978 and 928 Bay Ridge Parkway, which – over the past several months – have become poster children for a problem that residents say is overspreading the community, wreaking havoc with the quality of life.
“The applicants will have the opportunity to respond to the department to resolve non-compliant conditions on the projects,” explained DOB Press Secretary Alexander Schnell in an email, adding, “A failure to do so will result in the revocation of permits.”
According to Bob Cassara, founder of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance – formed to combat illegal conversions – DOB was able to move on the complaints against the two properties, despite not having gained access to their interiors, because the visible change of egress on the buildings’ exterior was contrary to the permit type that the developers had applied for, a type 2 permit that assumes no change in occupancy and no change in means of egress.
Cassara shared the news during the March meeting of the Dyker Heights Civic Association.
Both buildings have been completed and, noted Cassara, “had final signoffs.” However, he went on, “After the town hall meeting, [DOB] audited [the plans] and they failed the audit.”
Overall, fighting the illegal conversions, noted Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10, has been difficult because residents living in the buildings deny access to inspectors who are sent out in response to complaints.
Unfortunately, she said, if buildings inspectors are denied entrance on two occasions, the complaints are “marked resolved” by DOB, even though they are not.
The community board, Beckmann added, is tracking complaints in the Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights area, and trying to remain vigilant over those that are closed out by DOB. At this point, she said, there have been 360 illegal conversion complaints made to DOB since May, 2014.
“Our greatest frustration,” Beckmann stressed, “is the blatant disregard for the zoning resolution. The intent [of the developers] is to purchase properties and subdivide them.”
The result, say residents, is that one, two and three family homes are reconfigured to hold many more families, each occupying a single room and using common kitchen and bathroom facilities.
The alterations not only endanger adjacent structures (often, the conversions require deep excavations into the foundation), but also can pose a danger to both residents and first responders in case of fire or other emergency situations.
In addition, the increase in population puts an increased strain on city infrastructure and services. For example, schools are overcrowded, there is not adequate parking, public transportation is strained, and water and sewer mains are overtaxed.
“We have to understand our lives are on the line here,” stressed Fran Vella-Marrone, DHCA’s president. “It’s going to have detrimental effect on the entire community. We have to draw a line in the sand.”