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Conversion reversion: Locals, city working together to prevent illegal home divisions

Heart of the issue: The city is finally making progress against the backlog of illegal conversion complaints show by this map compiled last year showing blocks with two or more illegal conversion complaints that the city was unable to inspect because residents or homeowners denied the city access.
Community News Group / Max Jaeger

The system is working — finally.

The Department of Buildings has at last stepped up enforcement against illegally converted homes in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, residents say. Locals have long battled the practice of dicing one-and two-family homes into multi-family apartments without city permits and contrary to building codes — now residents and the city are advancing the line of scrimmage, according to local leaders.

“We seem to be making some progress,” said Bob Cassara, who heads the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance. “Out of the last four or five complaints, we’ve gotten four stop-work orders.”

The alliance filed the complaints less than a month ago, and the quick turnaround suggests that the buildings department is starting to take the issue more seriously, he said.

Another civic leader echoed the sentiment, crediting the city’s swift response to complaints.

“You would hardly ever hear about a stop-work order being issued before — now it’s constant,” said Fran Vella-Marrone, who heads the Dyker Heights Civic Association. “That’s because we have been diligent in reporting them, and they’re being good about getting out there as soon as they can.”

The Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance and the Dyker Heights Civic Association held a joint meeting with the Department of Buildings and the fire department in March that drew hundreds of concerned residents. During the town hall, pols promised legislation to increase penalties for shady landlords, and buildings department honchos pledged more resources to Southern Brooklyn and announced a task force to meet with concerned citizens.

The legislation is still pending, but in the meantime, the task force is working, Cassara said.

“The big difference is that we have our community task force going with the DOB, fire department, building marshals, and [the Department of Housing Preservation and Development],” he said.

Indeed, overall enforcement appears to be up in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights this year, according to city data.

The Department of Buildings issued 71 violations for work without a permit in the two postal codes covering Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights so far this year — compared to 47 by this time last year, public records show.

As the fight drags on, Cassara and others say they want to see preventative action from the city in the form of more oversight on issuing permit, better inspections, and steeper fines, which currently average from $500 to about $1,600 for un-permitted work.

“Hit them where it hurts,” Cassara said. “Whatever the fines are, its nothing compared to what [landlords] generate out of renting these houses.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.

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