From the NY Times:
For at least two years before a fire killed three men in an illegally divided house next door, Diane Ross and her family lived in an illegal apartment at 42-38 65th Street in Woodside, Queens.
Their life there — in a basement divided into one apartment and four single-room units, with six others upstairs, all crammed into a two-family house — seemed to them to be business as usual, and attracted no special notice. Neither the tenants nor their landlord, who said he charged $107 a month for each room, tried to hide it.
Con Edison workers entered the house in 2007 to make repairs. The city taxed the house as a three-family home, even though it was built for two. And the Ross family and their landlord say that city agencies visited their apartment and helped pay their rent for about two years — until Nov. 7, when the fatal blaze swept through the basement next door, killing the three men.
After that, building inspectors declared Ms. Ross’s apartment a hazard and ordered her out.
The Administration for Children’s Services and the Human Resources Administration, which provide rent assistance in various situations, said they could not reveal whether they had supported Ms. Ross’s family, citing confidentiality rules. They said that they checked documents and sometimes visited clients’ homes, but that they did not function as building inspectors.
But the story of 65th Street illustrates a problem often cited by housing advocates: Dangerous, illegal apartments often exist in plain sight, under the noses of overworked building inspectors whose job is to discover and fine violators, and of neighbors and workers who are not responsible for combating illegal apartments but may see or learn of unsafe situations.