Friday, August 17, 2012
Illegal conversions: Not much has changed
From the Daily News:
It’s hard to blame a landlord for trying to maximize the rent from a property, but when they resort to illegal subdivisions, it can have deadly consequences.
Just ask Rosendo Zaragoza, who still suffers from health problems after barely escaping a blaze that ripped through his Woodside apartment in November 2011, killing a fellow tenant and injuring three others.
“I thought I was going to die,” said Zaragoza, 63. “When I woke up in the hospital I still felt like I couldn’t breathe.”
City inspectors had tried to look into complaints about illegal conversions at his 61st St. apartment six times. But they couldn’t get in and the landlord didn’t respond to city notices, so nothing was done.
And Queens has the highest number of complaints of the five borough for these potential death traps, city records show.
The city has made some headway in curbing illegal conversions since it launched a campaign following a fatal November 2009 fire, also in Woodside.
But the problem is still pervasive, a Daily News investigation shows, partly because the Buildings Department must drop a case if inspectors can’t get access after a number of attempts.
There were 4,254 violations issued for illegal conversions on 15,675 complaints in Queens in 2009, according to records obtained by The News through a Freedom of Information Act request. In 2011, there were 2,837 violations issued on 9,083 complaints.
The rate of issuing violations climbed slightly, from 27% in 2009 to 31% in 2011, but local leaders say the drop in complaints is the more telling number because it suggests people are fed up with the complaint process.