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Uniting against divisions: Dyker Heights residents, pols battle illegal home conversions

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Residents of Dyker Heights are declaring war on illegal home conversions, and now local politicians are joining the fray with proposed laws to give the city more weapons for fighting the residential scourge.

Two civic groups are holding a joint town hall meeting on illegal conversions in Dyker Heights on Feb. 26. The practice of dicing one- and two-family homes into multi-family apartments is pervasive in southern Brooklyn, locals say. The illegally altered buildings can lack light, fresh air, and safe exits, putting residents and firefighters in harm’s way. Because the subdivided homes increase a neighborhood’s population, they also tax city services and can contribute to school overcrowding.

State and local politicians have introduced several bills to help combat what they have characterized as “an epidemic,” and we have boiled them down for you ahead of next Thursday’s town hall.

Make it a crime

Two state senators want to make it a crime to alter a building without a permit or outside a permit’s scope.

State Sen. Martin Golden (R–Bay Ridge) introduced a bill on Feb. 3 that targets property owners who are aware of an illegally converted building if someone is seriously hurt or dies as the result of the alteration. Golden’s proposal imposes misdemeanor charges, fines, and possible jail time on anyone who aids in violating a work permit or a certificate of occupancy. The bill has yet to clear committee.

Queens state Sen. Tony Avella introduced a similar bill on Jan. 7 that would charge not only landlords but also contractors, and even tenants for knowingly altering a building beyond its permits. That bill has also yet to clear committee.

Hold bad actors accountable

Assemblyman N. Nick Perry (D–East Flatbush) proposed a bill on Feb. 10 that would stick contractors with fines for illegal conversion if landlords can prove they didn’t know the un-permitted work was taking place. The bill has yet to clear committee.

Get inspectors inside

Residents call 311 thousands of times a year to complain about illegal home conversions, but the city only inspects a fraction of locations, in part because landlords and tenants have to let them in. A bill introduced by Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) would let buildings inspectors issue violations to buildings showing circumstantial evidence of illegal conversion, such as multiple electric meters or mailboxes serving a single home. The owner could clear the ticket by letting inspectors in and proving he or she didn’t illegally sub-divide the home.

Gentile introduced the bill in 2014. It has yet to clear committee, but Gentile said he has new fuel for his fight. City workers testified at a January hearing on illegal hotels that inspectors use circumstantial evidence when investigating short-term rentals, but not when inspecting suspected home conversions, Gentile said. The lawmaker will use that precedent to argue for his bill, he said.

Protecting firefighters

In 2013, an upstate lawmaker introduced a bill creating a class of felonies for property owners who put firefighters in harm’s way by turning individual homes into dangerous mazes of drywall.

“While responding to any emergency is dangerous, this is particularly so when a building has been illegally altered, usually to make room for more occupants,” the bill states. “Far too often, these situations result in serious injury to, or even the death of, firefighters or other emergency personnel.”

A firefighter died responding to a 2007 blaze in an illegally converted loft in Williamsburg.

That bill has been stuck in the senate’s Codes Committee since Jan. 9, 2014.

“Town Hall Meeting about Illegal Home Conversions” at the Knights of Columbus hall [1305 86th St. between 13th and 14th avenues in Dyker Heights, brooklynhpa.com, www.dykerheightscivicassociation.com]. Feb. 26 at 7 pm.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

ty from pps says:
Most of these proposed things are fairly rational... but I can't help but suspect that the *real* motivation here is not school overcrowding and firefighter safety.
Feb. 19, 2015, 10:35 am
Machete from Mexico says:
I'm surprised Tony Avella introduced a worthwhile bill. He is the same idiot trying to ban machetes...
Feb. 19, 2015, 11:13 am
ty from pps says:
did you get what I meant by *real* yet ?
Feb. 19, 2015, 11:52 am
Me from Bay Ridge says:
Yes,Ty. People who are non-white should be allowed to disregard all building regulations. We get it.
Feb. 19, 2015, 12:33 pm
ty from pps says:
The second Ty was the "funny one" -- but do you honestly think these folks would be all frothed up if the "scourge" was a bunch of white Bay Ridge townies?

It'll be fun unintended consequences when Gentile and Golden's relatives get fined when they are caught doing construction/renovations without a permit.
Feb. 19, 2015, 1 pm
Me from Bay Ridge says:
Yes, because the pretty and humble architecture of SW Brooklyn is being destroyed.
Feb. 19, 2015, 5:02 pm
Joe from Bensonhurst says:
Bunch of idiot amateur politicians pandering to obvious racists in that part of Brooklyn. They introduce un-enforceable bills that go nowhere.
Really the best they could come up with is;
"Assemblyman N. Nick Perry (D–East Flatbush) proposed a bill on Feb. 10 that would stick contractors with fines for illegal conversion if landlords can prove they didn’t know the un-permitted work was taking place"
How is that going to work, how do you prove a negative ? Dumb asses. I think Dyker people don't like "non whites". That's the real issue.
Feb. 19, 2015, 7:04 pm
Joe from Chinatown says:
I can bet my last dollar that after the town hall meeting everyone will go home and order Chinese take-out. Make sure you tip well, Happy New year.
Feb. 19, 2015, 7:17 pm
Mary from DH says:
'Dyker people' (and most every 'people' anywhere) don't like 30 people moving in on the first of any given month and 30 people moving on the last day of any month. In 2 family homes!
Feb. 19, 2015, 7:27 pm
LM from BR says:
Unfortunately, it comes down to greed! When a person moves, they no longer care about "their" neighborhood, who would not want to get top dollar, legal or not. Inspectors on the take aren't helping the situation. Until these laws are enacted, nothing will get accomplished.
Feb. 19, 2015, 8:04 pm
ty from pps says:
the representatives should repeal the law of unintended consequences. then eveything would work out with 20 people in a house. that would be *real*!
Feb. 20, 2015, 10:59 am
TOM from Sunset Park says:
This is a problem that was common in large one-family frame houses in Queens but it didn't involve Asians, only poor people as tenants though.
What goes around, comes around.
Feb. 20, 2015, 8:48 pm
chinatown from sunsetpark says:
People should be happy that more people want to move into their neighborhood. the government and your representatives should focus more on upzoning and spending more $ in upgrading schools and neighborhood utilities to accommodate this increase in population. Instead i think the politician are supporting the few people who dont like change and dont like new people moving in their neighborhood. chinese people just have to speak up and start voting. If they do all the politicians in these neighborhood would be creaming upzone and more $ for school instead.
Feb. 21, 2015, 12:23 am
ty from pps says:
just because there are more people does nt mean that they are *real8 people. *real* people understand this. when you have enough *real* people it doesn't feel crowded. when the crowded get crowed then you know there are *real* people mixed in with the others.

when that happens then there are issues, and those issues can mean a lot of things to different groups and those different groups know the difference even if they don't say so when you ask them. time like these call for answers even if the questions have not been asked, if you ask me.
Feb. 21, 2015, 10:59 am
Give me a break from Bay Ridge says:
Sorry, "chinatown" but that's not how it works. You can't just squeeze people in single family houses, just as you can't squeeze all those people into classrooms designed to accommodate a neighborhood of single family houses.
Oh and where is all the money for "upgrading" schools coming from? Oh, thats right, the local tax payers that are already footing the bill.

Lastly, I have lived in other countries. It never occurred to me to demand the right to do and act however I wanted regardless of the local people and laws. How arrogant!
Feb. 21, 2015, 11 am
Ethan from Flatbush says:
Reminds me of the white hipster pogrom throughout black neighborhoods displacing black families & forcing them to live on the street creating a record amount of black children who are now homeless thanks to these white hipsters
Feb. 22, 2015, 3:28 pm
dudes from Brooklyn says:
Interesting that the politicians never gave a hoot when this occurs in industrial buildings, pushing out blue collar jobs to make way for artists and gentrification.

But in Dyker, the shoes on the other foot. Get the blue collar workers out to get the property values up.

While illegal conversions shouldn't exist anywhere, it's funny how when it's about pushing the poor out instead of getting the yupsters in, it suddenly becomes an issue.

Sad that ethics are not a political requirement in this country.

Oh yea, and Vincent Gentile is a Raccoon killer.
Feb. 23, 2015, 1:34 am
M from DH says:
Excuse me, but I'm non-white and agree with these proposals. We've lived here for a very long time and within the last six years or so, we've seen these illegal home conversions taking place. If someone has an issue with you in your *normal* home, then you can talk about racism. No one knows who's living within the home. All most of us see are the abominations from the outside. This is a nice neighborhood and using the excuse of bigotry to excuse illegal additions is ridiculous.

It's enough we now have more "nail spas" popping up. Gee, who would've thought so many men needed manicures at night.
Feb. 23, 2015, 2:56 pm
tony from staten island says:
Lets up zone the area. Allow owners to convert legally these 1 or 2 family into multiple family apartments with sprinkler systems. that would solve the safety issues. Most owners would do it if you allow it. People just look at 13th ave. How the businesses on that street is doing? they cant survive with our old folks mom and pop buying 2 orange a day in 1 family surrounding them. 13th ave is like an example of how the old ita neighborhood is doing. Dying...like the people who are left. since owner on 13th ave and 5th ave cant lease out these commercial spaces to good business tenant they would turn to renting out to nail spa M from DH. Who want to be a prostitue when they have better options???? U dont see a nail spa on 8th ave dont u? Also people are not getting 99 year mortgage and most of them are not illegal immigrants. They are hard working immigrants just like your grandparents were. They work very hard to buy the over priced 1.5 million dollar beat up house your cousin just sold after he inhabited from your uncle and aunt. these immigrants work hard in restaurants at night making your food and delieveries while you have the luxury to goto townhall 7pm to 9pm townhall meeting complainting and trying to figure out a way to keep them out.....supporting these politicians who done nothing to improve the business situation on street like 13th ave. All they want is your vote and keep their job. ...... I actually spoke to some old folks in these neighborhoods who said.......hey we use to do the same thing! Someday the kids of people who are coming in would do the same thing..... If you want some nice 1 family living move to staten island. You can buy a mansion with some $ left to buy a nice car and pay for bridge toll for atleast 20 years if you sell your current house. I did. remember people. All these people have to go somewhere. If you kick them out in one area they will goto another. That like you throwing your garbage to your neighbors yard. Never solve the problem. Manhattan use to be a forest with 1 family houses also remember. time to change. time to sell your house and move to staten island And leave these people along.
March 1, 2015, 9:17 am
Mund from Brooklyn says:
There's still white people in Bay Ridge?
March 6, 2015, 9:32 am
John from Dyker Heights says:
I am appalled by the idiots who refer to "real" motivation of the Dyker Heights residents....you are an idiot! I am an From Asian descent and have lived in this wonderful neighborhood for over 20 years.....I never had any issues. In the last 5 years many new homeowners have been purchasing homes in Dyker and ILLEGALLY converting them. The neighborhood is now so dirty and parking is ridiculous. I just wish these individual would just obey the laws....it's its destroying this area!
March 10, 2015, 10:54 pm

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