The city is taking steps to put Brooklyn’s illegal home conversion problem on ice, but locals say the battle is just heating up.
The Department of Buildings is sending more inspectors to Brooklyn, and Borough President Adams introduced a multi-pronged bill to fight illegal home conversions, officials announced at a town hall meeting on Feb. 26. But residents who see their neighborhood being crowded and endangered by shady building practices say they’ll only rest when they see results.
The city shifted more building inspectors to Brooklyn last summer to step up enforcement in response to a rise in complaints, an official said.
“The vast majority of illegal conversions were in Queens [before 2009],” said Tim Hogan, a deputy commissioner with the buildings department. “The numbers are changing now, and as recently as July of last year, we transferred some of the Queens unit into Brooklyn. In doing so we have increased fourfold the number of access warrants that we have applied for and received in Brooklyn.”
The borough president and two Brooklyn councilmen are now pushing a law to give those additional inspectors more teeth.
Adams and councilmen Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) and Jumaane Wiliams (D–East Flatbush) have introduced legislation to create a new building code violation for illegal subdivisions and a minimum $45,000 fine for landlords who turn a single unit into three or more. It would also relax criteria for obtaining warrants to inspect suspicious properties.
Critics have long panned the city for failing to collect fines form landlords, which currently total $640 million in uncollected cash, Marrone said.
Currently, the main leverage the buildings department has to collect fines for doing work without a permit comes only if a scofflaw landlord eventually comes to the agency to ask for one.
But under the proposed bill, the city could put a lien against homes with unpaid conversion violations, allowing it collect when the property is sold.
The bill also stipulates that the revenue from the fines would be earmarked for a fund to provide three months of housing to tenants booted from subdivided homes by enforcement actions, a spokesman for Adams said.