Talk about an open house!
A Bay Ridge property owner who told the city he was doing a little renovation hacked off the front of a 94th Street residence, and now the exposed interior is giving people a peek inside an illegally converted home, locals say. The hammer-happy homeowner got a permit to do light work inside the house, but instead he ripped off the whole front wall and tossed it in a dumpster. Complaints that the owner illegally converted the basement into living space date back to 2006, city records show. Area pols promised legislation combating illegal conversions earlier this year, but the package of bills has stalled, leaving many community activists scratching their heads as illegal renovation continues to tear apart their neighborhoods.
“Six months later, a year later, what’s happening?” said Bob Cassara, head of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance.
Councilmen Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) and Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush) and Borough President Adams announced a suite of bills to combat illegal home conversions in March — one would jack up Department of Buildings fines for illegal work, another would let the city put a lien on property when deadbeats don’t pay, and a third would funnel fines collected into a fund for families displaced when the city shutters an illegally converted home.
But the Brooklyn pols have to write the third bill in consultation with Mayor DeBlasio, a Gentile spokesman said. Initially officials expected to introduce the bills to Council in April, but Hizzoner has been slow to act, causing the whole package to stall, a Gentile staffer said in June.
Gentile is in the midst of “deep talks with the administration, including city agencies and the Mayor’s office,” concerning the legislation, according a staffer.
Housing advocates say illegal conversions — property owners’ practice of dividing one- or two-family homes into multi-family apartments to squeeze more rent out of the same space — are plaguing Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights. A lack of light and fresh air — and shady contractors’ penchants for poor electrical wiring — make the homes a danger both for tenants and firefighters who don’t know what they’re walking into if entrances, walls, and exits don’t match plans on file with the city.
The Department of Buildings hit a construction site at 78th Street and Ninth Avenue with a stop work order Nov. 6 after an inspector discovered the owner installed two new electrical panels without a permit, records show. Now, Gentile is demanding the city slap the 94th Street building owner with a stop work order before he defaces the building any further.
Pols are still hashing out new legislation, but the city needs to do a better job enforcing existing rules in the meantime, Cassara said.
“I want them to enforce the laws,” he said. “The Department of Buildings needs to enforce what’s on the books.”