From City Hall:
Two deadly blazes in recent weeks, one in a Bronx apartment and another in Brooklyn, are raising questions about the city's ability to crack down on thousands of apartments that are illegally divided into separate, smaller units.
While much of the city's response focuses on how to bolster enforcement, an additional answer could be to adapt the zoning and building codes to pave the way for smaller—and safer—housing units as an alternative to the overcrowded, risky conditions many New Yorkers live in.
"If you want to change those problems, you have to offer other kinds of solutions," said Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Council, a housing research organization. "You can't just outlaw the world of the underground housing market. It exists because people can't find what they need in the normal housing market."
Easing the regulations would boost the supply of housing for low-income families, single adults and commuters who stay in the city part-time, according to the group.
No one disputes that illegal subdivisions are a problem. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the U.S. Census undercounted the city population by around 250,000 people in part because it missed residents in illegal subdivisions.
The CHPC estimated in 2003 that 100,000 illegal dwellings were in spaces not designed for residential use at all. And each year New York City receives about 20,000 complaints about illegally converted apartments, though it is able to inspect fewer than half of them.
From the Queens Tribune:
Though the city receives thousands of complaints about illegal conversions each year, only a handful ever end in fines. DOB officers sent to investigate the complaints are often denied entry and the complaints are often closed after two tries; homeowners, expecting visits from the DOB, have become smart on how to avoid encountering an inspector. The problem has led Public Advocate Bill de Blasio to call for reforming the way the DOB responds to complaints.
"We see illegally divided housing across Queens, both in neighborhoods dominated by big apartment buildings and those made up single-family homes," de Blasio said. "Wherever it happens, it is dangerous and the Dept. of Buildings needs to respond rapidly to reports they receive. It should not take the Dept. of Buildings weeks to dispatch inspectors, only to have many of them stymied by locked doors. The Department must accelerate its inspection process and increase its attempts to gain access to illegally subdivided units."
Among the things de Blasio would like to see the DOB change is the hours of inspection visits, so that owners are at home when inspectors come. Currently, most visits occur during the day when homeowners may be at work. He added that the DOB should have a quicker response time to complaints, which can sometimes be more than a month, and they should prioritize illegal conversions.