House of the crammed: Shuttered two-family home had 31 people in it

Cast out: Tenants discover a vacate order that the Department of Buildings issued on Aug. 4.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

It’s how Dyker Heights’ other half lives.

Officials ordered vacated a two-family Seventh Avenue home where 31 people — including 13 children — were living in cramped conditions on Aug. 4, because the arrangement endangered tenants and neighbors. The situation was deplorable, according to one witness who walked through the house near 67th Street as residents packed to leave on Aug. 6.

“It was just squalor,” said Anthony Ceretti of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance. “It smelled, fixtures were hanging out of the wall, they were awful conditions — especially for the kids.”

City inspectors found extreme overcrowding and too few exits — along with shoddy plumbing, electrical and gas work, according to Department of Buildings records. A family of four shared a single bedroom — and a single bed — according to Ceretti.

The vacate order is the latest example in a rash of illegal home conversions in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Bensonhurst that has placed tremendous strain on city services.

The trend has provoked ire from local pols, including Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) who two months ago co-sponsored a bill to curtail the practice of illicitly subdividing small homes into multi-family apartments.

Close neighbors: Thirty one people were illegally packed into this two-family house on Seventh Avenue in Dyker Heights.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

“We simply cannot afford to continue to put the safety of vulnerable individuals, our neighborhoods, and our communities at risk,” said Gentile. “Time is of the essence for this viral developer scheme to be put to an end.”

The bill imposes greater fines on landlords who knowingly and illegally dice up homes. It would also let the city put liens on properties whose owners don’t pay up.

But the proposal lacks provisions protecting tenants displaced by city-issued vacate orders, and could have the unintended consequence of pushing residents — many of whom are low-income immigrants — out onto the street, critics have said. It initially included a safety net, but sponsors scrapped the provision because it relied on funding from buildings department fines, and the plan exceeded Council’s authority.

The American Red Cross relocated the 31 people packed into the Dyker Heights home to the Days Inn on 39th Street and Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park for three days, then moved them to a homeless shelter, Gentile said.

Landlord Hou Yu Zhou could not be reached for comment.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at mspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2517. Follow him on Twitter @carolinespivack.
All-in-one: A family of four uses a room as a closet, living room, and bedroom.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

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