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Illegal housing conversions in Dyker Heights

Residents of 75th Street complain of illegal conversions on block and across neighborhood

Brooklyn Daily
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Residents along 75th Street in Dyker Heights complain that homes on their block are being illegally chopped up into cramped apartments — and local leaders say the problem is happening across the neighborhood.

Neighbors between 10th Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway say that a pair of two-family residences on their street have undergone extensive gut renovation, and one now appears to be sheltering numerous residents.

“Every day, somebody sees another mattress coming in. Nobody knows how many people are living there,” said Michelle Scotto, who has lived on the block for more than 60 years.

The neighbors said work on the properties began at the end of last year, as dozens of dumpsters appeared in front of both houses, constantly being refilled. Tenants began moving into one of the buildings a few months later, and never stopped. The longtime residents reported walking by at night and noticing that what had been the living room had been cut up into tiny bedrooms.

“There’s a bed there, and a closet, it’s like a college dorm room, and there’s at least two people living in there,” said Frank Capodicasa. “It wasn’t until the lights went on in the rooms, and we saw the beds, and all the people coming in and out, that we realized what was happening.”

Capodicasa said he believes there are people also living in the cellar, and warned that the crowded conditions and insufficient exits could lead to disaster.

“They have bars welded to the firstfloor windows and the basement windows. God forbid if there was ever a fire there, it could be a catastrophe,” Capodicasa said.

The second house remains under construction, but neighbors noted that laborers were removing tons of dirt and concrete from the lower floors — which they feared could destabilize the structure and endanger other houses nearby.

“If you go below the foundation, you put the house in danger of collapsing,” said another resident, who asked not to be named.

City records show that the Buildings Department issued a stop-work order on the second property for excavating without a permit in early May — but then decided to allow the digging to continue, and inspect once it is complete.

The Fire Department inspected the first property last week, and referred its findings — which it refused to specify — to the Department of Buildings. But Buildings said that, as of last inspection, work on the building was up to code and consistent with zoning and permits. The agency’s records indicate there have been 19 complaints about the site in the past three months.

Neighborhood leaders said that they have received similar complaints about building conversions from all corners of the neighborhood, and said they have urged the city to take action — recalling past tragedies resulting from properties, such as the 2010 fire that took the the lives of five Guatemalan immigrants living in a diced-up apartment building on 86th Street.

“A two-family house becomes subdivided to four five, six families,” said Community Board 10 member Josephine Beckmann. “Illegal subdivisions can lead to things that are tragic.”

Elected officials agreed that such conversions are widespread and potentially lethal, and called on residents to report any suspected instances of illegal conversion.

“Buying a house and then dividing it up into many small apartments is not only illegal but incredibly dangerous. Landlords looking to maximize their rent roll are creating hazardous conditions that put lives at risk,” said Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge).

Capodicasa said he has tried to organize residents of other blocks, and said he was surprised at the extent of the problem.

“Every other person that I spoke with said, ‘oh yeah, it’s happening near me, this place and that place and that place,’ ” Capodicasa said.

Call to the phone number listed for both owners were answered by someone who did not speak English.

Building permits for both 75th Street properties listed City Building NY, at the corner of 64th Street and Eighth Avenue, as the architect. City Building did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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