On Sunday, March 8, elected officials gathered outside the Eglise Baptiste Clarte Celeste Church – an East Flatbush house of worship that suffered severe damage following a November, 2014 fire that took the life of one 24-year-old man and displaced 16 people –to announce the latest “multi-pronged” attack on illegal home conversions, the very issue that helped fan the flames.
“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 Councilmember Jumaane Williams, joined by Councilmember Vincent Gentile and Borough President Eric Adams outside of the three-story building that was once home to an illegally converted dwelling above the church.
The trio’s bill, he said, would create a new building code violation category called Aggravated Illegal Conversion, that would penalize any property owner who creates three or more living units in a single unit or part of a unit without proper permits.
Additionally, the bill would extend the availability of access warrants to act on circumstantial evidence while also naming all violations or fines lienable against the real property, superseding all but Emergency Repair Liens, and holding agencies like the Department of Housing Preservation and Development accountable for housing displaced tenants.
“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,” Williams said.
Gentile, who represents a swathe of Southwest Brooklyn that’s been plagued with illegal conversions and single-room-occupancies for decades, agreed.
“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,” he said. “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 legislation is expected to be introduced at the Council’s upcoming meeting.