Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tips on how to spot illegal apartments


Follows a DOB Undercover Investigation into Illegal Apartments Advertised on Craigslist

Undercover Operation is a New Part of City Enforcement and Educational Approach to Combat Dangers of Illegal Apartments

Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri today issued 10 tips for renters on how to recognize the signs of an illegal apartment that could endanger the safety of its occupants, neighbors and first responders. These tips follow an undercover investigation by Department investigators who searched advertisements on Craigslist and posed as potential tenants to inspect 62 buildings throughout the City. Illegal conditions were found in 54 of the apartments for rent, including 33 properties where vacate orders were issued because the conditions posed an immediate threat to public safety. As a result, the Department issued 104 violations to property owners who created illegal conditions, including fire safety hazards such as inadequate means of egress and illegal gas, electrical and plumbing work. Monthly rents for these apartments ranged from $750 to $1,200.

“An illegal apartment might save you a few dollars – but it may end up costing you your life,” said Commissioner LiMandri. “Some illegal living spaces are clean, spacious and still have only one exit in case of an emergency, which can easily lead to tragic consequences for you and your family. Property owners who create these types of conditions are deceiving tenants and putting their safety at risk, and that’s why it’s so important for New Yorkers to understand the potential dangers. Every tenant should ask questions, conduct research and confirm whether the advertised living space is legal and if construction work was performed with proper permits.”

As part of this intensified enforcement and educational approach to raise awareness about the dangers of illegal conversions, the Department has issued 10 tips for New Yorkers who are searching for apartments in the City and may encounter these situations and/or conditions. The following tips may be indicators that an apartment could be illegally converted:

1) Know the market. Be wary of units that advertise significantly lower price points for comparable apartments in the area.

2) Beware of the words “basement” or “attic.” Advertisements that use these words are often for apartments that typically lack adequate exits.

3) Avoid apartments that have rooms without windows or very small windows. These are often found in illegal cellar or basement apartments. Landlords will sometimes describe the ones with very small windows as “sunny” to entice renters.

4) Beware of the word “flex.” “Flex” implies that the apartment can be converted into a multi-bedroom unit using pressurized walls. The installation and/or construction of a wall without the proper permits from the Department are illegal.

5) “Utilities included” is a red flag. A landlord may not want utilities under another name connected to the property because those residents would violate the legal occupancy of the building.

6) Avoid apartments with odd layouts. They are often described as “unique” or “interesting” and are oddly situated (i.e. a shower installed in the kitchen).

7) Be cautious when a landlord refuses to disclose the exact address. Landlords advertising illegal apartments may ask to meet a potential renter before exposing the address to possible regulation or penalty.

8) Beware of apartments where you can’t have mail delivered. Landlords advertising illegal apartments will often request that tenants obtain a separate P.O. Box.

9) Beware of no-lease apartments. Be suspicious of a landlord who declines to draw up a lease, requests a month-to-month agreement or requires cash payments.

10) Check for adequate means of egress and look out for locked doors in the unit. A tenant should be able to access all available exits either directly from the unit or a public hallway.

Following the investigation, the Department’s community liaisons have distributed thousands of educational flyers in the targeted neighborhoods to warn residents about the dangers of living in an illegally converted space. So far, more than 100,000 multi-lingual flyers have been distributed since the Department launched a citywide educational campaign in November 2009 when three people lost their lives in a fire in an illegal cellar apartment in Queens.

Illegal conversions are building units that have been altered to create additional housing without obtaining proper approvals from the Department. For more information on the dangers of illegal conversions, or to verify permit and occupancy information for a unit, visit www.nyc.gov/buildings.


cherokeesita said...

I've been reporting the same Illegal boarding house for 10 years!!!!! And it's still friggin there:(

Anonymous said...

In order for a prospective tenant to read and follow these rules they would have to speak english.

Anonymous said...

This is a start I hope, to really enforce the law and crack down where the law is broken. Let's start with my block with over 70% illegal cellar apartments in attached tiny single family homes.

An initiative; giving out a court summons to those suspected of renting illegal apartments or conversions to answer it in court to prove it's legal should be the approach to catch the illegal apartment by landlords. The current approach which is to gain access to a property is ineffective as the resident and landlord do not provide entry. Thus several visits by DOB inspectors are wasted and then dropped, so that the landlord continues to get away with renting dangerous apartments.

Anonymous said...

Let the city make some more money. Issue, for a fee, to any property owner seeking to rent via any advertizement a "certificate of legality" with a number that must be included in the ad and post a database of the certificates by address.

Anonymous said...

Notice how these "tips" are all protective of the prospective tenant? They are not designed for the neighbors to be good citizens and rat out illegal apartments. They are desinged to "save" tenants from "evil" and "greedy" landlords.

Anonymous said...

If the entrance to the apartment is through a driveway to the back of the house, chances are it's illegal. That's why most people in Queens don't park their cars in the driveway -- the tenants have no way to gain entrance. Get a clue, DOB

Anonymous said...

Walk down any block in Queens. you will see on the front of two or three story houses, five or six con ed meters. that should tell you how many people live there. how much electricity and water is being used? You can then estimate how many people live there.
the MDL Multiple Dwelling Law states,
(why didn't they include this in the so called "tips?)
attics and basements are not to be used as dwelling places in the City of NY.
the real question is - why does the City of NY not bother to enforce it's own housing/building codes?
they could easily put vacate orders on the hundreds of thousands of "illegal" apartments.
then the illegal immigrants and their jackpot babies and rent an elderly person could all be deported.

Anonymous said...

There's no place to park in Queens anymore, because the homeowners don't park in their driveways. They need the driveway clear so their illegal tenants can access their illegal apartments in the back. The city could make a fortune if it only enforced the rules already on the books.

Anonymous said...

How to spot an illegal apartment in your neighborhood: look for extra meters, television cables, doorbells, mailboxes. Do a neighbor search on the online telephone book. Get your voter enrollment books or database and see how many different last names of differing ethnicites you find. It is amazing how obvious illeglas are.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any idea what the Department of Buildings does? Sounds like they have been disbanded. Do they do anything to weed out these illegal apartments or are they just paid to do crossword puzzles and read the papers?

Anonymous said...

If a homeowner has an illegal apartment and collects rent without reporting it as income, would it be appropriate to call the IRS? Maybe they can do something about illegal apartments. Why not have the IRS pay a bounty for every illegal residence turned in? Bet this little problem would go away Pronto.

Anonymous said...

the d.o.b. only has to check their own records to find all the illegal conversions on a block. the homes that refused to open their doors or answer the summons are the illegal landlords. it is that simple ,dummies.

we decent homeowners have had to put up with our greedy absentee owners p.o.s. renters for years,while they pocket the rent and pay no taxes for it.

Anonymous said...

Maspeth Avenue & 59th Street next to the Thrift shop = 5 apartments
Should be only two.

56th drive and and 59th Place = small brick house with 6 names on the bell.

56 Drive between 61 & 64 St = large house new red stucco - 5 apartments = alledgeldy two SRO's in the basement. 2nd Floor apt split into duplex with the attic

I could list a half dozen more but you get the point- so when is the city going to do soemthing about this issue that jeapordizes all our lives and costs us money to boot.

Anonymous said...

google nyc.gov to get proper definition of your complaint. complaints are listed w/ number codes.

at pay phone and ANON (you cannot be identified) ,with 6 quarters ,call 311( no coins needed at first)....recite your complaint properly, you will be connected then to D.O.B. clerk. answer his questions.
use the words "major" or "unsafe for workers" and D.O.B. inspectors will respond faster.
after a week check nyc.gov for violation report.


cherokeesista said...

43-31 Bowne street Flushing 40 people living in a single family house:(

43-17 Bowne street apt. 1FR Flushing 1 bedroom apartment being used as a BROTHEL:(

Anonymous said...

Catching illegal converted apartments is like catching fish in a barrel - impossibly easy.

But inspectors need access to inspect the interior. They should have a process that after 3x of atttempts to access is denied, to auromatically receive a court order demand to access or close down the entire structure und compliance.

Just look at any single family house with a garage - the garage is bricked up with a new door and sometimes a tiny window, bingo! An illegal apartment entry exists there with out prior permits and space listed on CO as multfamily home.

Anonymous said...

my neighbor rents out his basement. took city owned property and rents out a car space. the city does shit and DOB sucks.