From the Daily News:
Years after the city promised to crack down on illegal firetraps, a new audit has found the problem has become much worse in Queens — the borough where the chopped-up apartments are most prevalent.
In a report to be released Friday, Controller John Liu’s auditors charge the city Buildings Department has done a poor job of going after Queens landlords who ignore fire safety rules and divide up apartments to increase profits.
And statistics show this is a citywide trend, with inspectors’ success at gaining access to suspected illegal units diminishing. The rate of gaining access dipped from about 50% in 2010 to 46% last year.
“The Buildings Department is just dysfunctional and incapable of improving itself,” Liu said. “Its inability to perform basic tasks like these bode poorly not just for the department, but for residents and neighborhoods too.”
Liu said the problem got worse since a 2009 audit uncovered lax enforcement: “DOB has made little progress in improving its response to quality-of-life complaints.”
Liu’s auditors found the two-knock rule got much worse in Queens between 2009 and 2011 — the year a fire tore through illegal apartments in a Woodside building, killing one tenant and severely injuring three others.
In a response to Liu’s audit, DOB blamed landlords, who the department said have become “more vigilant in barring DOB inspectors access to their properties.”
Auditors noted that DOB can obtain warrants from a judge to force landlords to open up, and the buildings department did hike the number of warrant requests from 13 in 2008 to 80 in 2011. But that was still only 1.4% of the 5,577 cases where inspectors responding to complaints couldn’t get inside in 2010-11.
In three cases, DOB gave up even after obtaining warrants. Although they can call in cops to enforce the warrant, DOB officials said they chose not to.
Auditors also noted that when DOB was able to gain access and cited a landlord for an illegal unit, the agency inconsistently followed up to see if that apartment was later reoccupied.