What has happened in Queens represents an extraordinary collusion of landlords, tenants, real estate brokers and contractors, tacitly abetted by judges and city bureaucrats who are partly unwilling and partly unable to stop it. The surrender of city officials exemplifies the calculation they have made throughout all five boroughs: it is better to let tenants remain in illegal apartments than to evict them, because the city has no place else for them to go.
Behind a Suburban Facade in Queens, A Teeming, Angry Urban Arithmetic
''We're betwixt and between,'' said Borough President Claire Shulman of Queens. Ms. Shulman said that if officials invoked enough laws, hired enough inspectors and mounted enough court battles, they might be able to make a dent in the problem. But, she added, ''It would probably only increase the homeless population.''
Ms. Shulman and other borough and city officials say it is impossible to quantify such a hidden phenomenon, and census numbers provide little or no help, because they overlook many of the recent immigrants who occupy the basements, attics and even garages of houses throughout the borough.
But the district managers of virtually every community board in Queens cite the illegal conversion of private homes as their primary problem, causing fire and health hazards, overcrowding schools and cluttering neighborhoods that were not supposed to be overrun with garbage pails and double-parked cars.
School officials notice more children listing the same address on enrollment forms. Postal workers notice more names on the different pieces of mail being delivered to each house. And residents notice contractors trudging in and out of their neighbors' yards as more and more homeowners cash in on the trend.