The number of vacate orders issued to homes with often-dangerous illegal conversions has dropped by more than half in the past three years, according to the Department of Buildings.
In 2012, inspectors from the DOB's Quality of Life Unit, who investigate illegal conversions, issued 1,032 vacate orders to owners of units that had been illegally subdivided into a warren of smaller apartments, according to the department — shutting down life-threatening partitions like the one that led to the deaths of two firefighters during the "Black Friday" blaze of 2005.
The number of vacate orders dropped to 1,012 the following year. By 2014, that number dipped to 911. And in 2015, inspectors sent out only 630 vacate orders, although DOB officials said the number could change as more complaints are processed.
A DOB spokesman blamed the drop in orders to vacate — which were accompanied by a drop in the overall number of inspections — on a number of veteran inspectors retiring, as well as a change in approach.
“The Quality of Life Unit, which is primarily responsible for investigating illegal conversions, went through a staff shift last year resulting in a number of long-time inspectors moving into different roles or retiring,” the spokesman said in an email.
“Additionally, where possible, we are encouraging owners to correct illegal conversions without evicting people from their homes — issuing vacate orders only as a last resort when conditions pose a danger to the life of a tenant.”