New bill to battle illegal conversions unveiled at Dyker town hall

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The city is taking steps to put Brooklyn’s illegal home conversion problem on ice, but locals say the battle is just heating up.

The Department of Buildings is sending more inspectors to Brooklyn, and Borough President Adams introduced a multi-pronged bill to fight illegal home conversions, officials announced at a town hall meeting on Feb. 26. But residents who see their neighborhood being crowded and endangered by shady building practices say they’ll only rest when they see results.

“This is just the beginning of the fight,” said Fran Vella Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association and an organizer of the meeting.

The city shifted more building inspectors to Brooklyn last summer to step up enforcement in response to a rise in complaints, an official said.

“The vast majority of illegal conversions were in Queens [before 2009],” said Tim Hogan, a deputy commissioner with the buildings department. “The numbers are changing now, and as recently as July of last year, we transferred some of the Queens unit into Brooklyn. In doing so we have increased fourfold the number of access warrants that we have applied for and received in Brooklyn.”

The borough president and two Brooklyn councilmen are now pushing a law to give those additional inspectors more teeth.

Adams and councilmen Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) and Jumaane Wiliams (D–East Flatbush) have introduced legislation to create a new building code violation for illegal subdivisions and a minimum $45,000 fine for landlords who turn a single unit into three or more. It would also relax criteria for obtaining warrants to inspect suspicious properties.

Critics have long panned the city for failing to collect fines form landlords, which currently total $640 million in uncollected cash, Marrone said.

Currently, the main leverage the buildings department has to collect fines for doing work without a permit comes only if a scofflaw landlord eventually comes to the agency to ask for one.

But under the proposed bill, the city could put a lien against homes with unpaid conversion violations, allowing it collect when the property is sold.

The bill also stipulates that the revenue from the fines would be earmarked for a fund to provide three months of housing to tenants booted from subdivided homes by enforcement actions, a spokesman for Adams said.

“For the first time, we would properly address the displacement problem that occurs when enforcement on these units occurs, helping to prevent homelessness for innocent families,” Adams said in a statement.

Another local called the proposals smart first steps toward fixing a long-broken enforcement system.

“It’s a good start,” said Bob Cassara, who heads the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance, which helped organize the Feb. 26 town hall. “Right now, they can’t collect the fines. But when you have an outstanding debt and it goes to collectors, they’re going get it — even if they’re only getting pennies on the dollar — they’re going to collect it. Buildings will be sold. This will be part of the solution.”

But the proposal only punishes landlords once the deed is done, and a comprehensive approach calls for preventative legislation to scrutinize property owners and contractors before they have a chance to violate the building codes, according to a Bay Ridge preservationist.

“I applaud the legislation proposed by the borough president and councilmen, but the problem with the legislation is it can take so long to pass and implement,” Victoria Hofmo said. “While the legislation is in the council, I hope for more expeditious policy changes.”

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

Michael says:
I don't see why the city doesn't send inspectors immeadiately. Not only are illegal conversions potentially dangerous building violations - but they can also be an easy source of money for the city. It would be a win-win situation if people like the borough president actually acted on their promises, instead of just blowing out hot air. A person could be suspicious of whether he actually cares at all about Dyker Heights, and it's residents.
March 3, 2015, 6:43 am
ty from pps says:
*right* people prevail.
March 3, 2015, 8:24 am
ty from piss says:
i'm *pretty sure* fran is edith bunker.
March 3, 2015, 9:13 am
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
the mayor need to spent more on public housing, otherwise illegal conversion housing will continue to fill the hole of lack of affordable housing in the city.
March 3, 2015, 9:14 am
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
a rail extension into Staten Island will alleviate the illegal conversion crisis in Dyker Heights, as more efficient transportation allow further expansion of affordable housing at reasonable commute.
March 3, 2015, 9:35 am
illegal warehouses from Brooklyn says:
...hope the laws will apply to illegal warehouses where art squatters reside and continue to deteriorate the industrial fabric making way for gentrification and the loss of jobs to the blue collar work families.

Protect our jobs, not just the home values of the wealthy in Bay Ridge & Dyker Heights!!!
March 3, 2015, 10:26 am
New Person from Bay Ridge says:
I feel very stupid, but I don't know what they are converting these houses *to*. (I'm new to NYC) Multiple-family dwellings is my guess, but I would be grateful if someone would explain this.
March 3, 2015, 10:26 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
I wouldn't have caught this caption if I hadn't seen it brought up on Twitter:

"including one instance where a man yelled that he “felt a little uncomfortable with an Asian in the room.”

How much really of this protest is about "overcrowding," which could be solved by allowing building more densely, and how much is about conservative NIMBYs trying to protect their traditional way of life, standing athwart history yelling STOP.
March 3, 2015, 11:21 am
aynm from Bay ridge says:
Bob Cassara of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance didn't know what he was talking about. Get the facts straight first Bob
March 3, 2015, 12:01 pm
aynm from Bay ridge says:
Bob Cassara of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance didn't know what he was talking about. Get the facts straight first Bob
March 3, 2015, 12:01 pm
Embarrassed to be white from Brooklyn says:
If this is really about safety, why is it that all of the people calling for a crackdown are old and white – i.e., not the people supposedly at risk? Let's get real – this is about southern Brooklyn's cranky old whites being angry about not being able to find parking, having lots of Asians in their schools, having to endure Asian foods and smells on the streets.

If you don't like diversity, maybe it's time to move to Long Island.

I hope that when southern Brooklyn's Asian community finds their voice, they remember who looked out for their interests and who did not.
March 3, 2015, 12:08 pm
NYC from Brooklyn says:
Shouting erupted several times from the hundreds-strong crowd, including one instance where a man yelled that he “felt a little uncomfortable with an Asian in the room.”

what kind of meeting is this?
March 3, 2015, 12:19 pm
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
illegal conversion may be more prevalent in other neighborhoods than Dyker Heights - many large family dwelling in Boro Park and Sunset Park are very common. Are folks in Dyker Heights going to introduce some kind of racial exclusion act next?
March 3, 2015, 12:49 pm
SSPark from Brooklyn says:
one instance where a man yelled that he “felt a little uncomfortable with an Asian in the room.” Give that single Asian(Arab or Oriental) a bravery award for going to that meeting.

I think the neighborhood folks need to calm down and let the dept of building deal with it. They should not file bogus harassing complaints 30 times on a property that had plan properly approved, permitted, and inspected by the buildings dept(30 times) during the course of construction. Those bogus complaints are the ones that are really taking up the inspectors time

The DH area is so sensitive right now that any property that does any renovation even with proper plans and permits would get bogus complaints about illegal conversion.
March 3, 2015, 1:24 pm
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
someone did file 80 bogus 311 complaints in one day in Dyker Heights last year.
March 3, 2015, 2:26 pm
FL from Brooklyn says:
should punish those people file bogus complaints. It's criminal act
March 3, 2015, 3:42 pm
old time brooklyn from slope says:
code enforcementt is not racist - that argument only makes on look simple. a few years ago some fire fighters were severely injured and at least one killed in a fire in an illegal conversion in the Bronx. When tragically some are killed due to illegal conversion there will be those screaming the city was at fault. I have a vacation home upstate and the same issues are present. By the way I had a good laugh when someone referred o the wealthy in DH.
March 3, 2015, 3:55 pm
I Love from Brooklyn says:
Whoever prepared that presentation board for Bob Cassara did not do their research and make him look like a fool to those who knows their building stuff. Some of the stuff on the board are legally reviewed and approved by Department of buildings, properly permitted by the contractor and had passed all inspections(done by the city). But he still use it at the meeting pointing at it looking like he know what his talking about(like a professional). Educate yourself before educating your community. otherwise the bogus complaints that is draining the DOB and FDNY will continue.
March 3, 2015, 4:26 pm
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
illegal or not, NYC is facing a major housing crisis with increasing population. Plus, the mayor's approval of illegal immigrants accessing city resource will only attract more people south of the border.
March 3, 2015, 7:33 pm
LABJ from Bay Ridge says:
RE: Embarrassed to be White
No, I was not at the meeting. I am old and white and have lived in Bay Ridge my entire life. The weather is too bad for my old white self to go to such a meeting. Good for you that you were able to be present. I have no issue with diversity. This was about illegal building conversions. So old, white folks should move to Long Island? Recent statistics show Long Island to be the most diverse and the huge multimillion dollar mansions on Long Island & Manhattan are being bought by Asians who demand to remain anonymous. You are a racist.
March 3, 2015, 9:15 pm
G.F. from Bay Ridge says:
Hey, LABJ, didn't you know that only white people are old and cranky? Well, I would rather be old and cranky than an Embarrassment from where ever he/she comes from!
March 3, 2015, 9:29 pm
Anna from BR says:
People should maybe get out of their city pied a terres. PS and PP brownstones and take a look south. Illegal 5 stories going up with "official permits," filthy streets running with vermin and six feet high garbage, and even TB outbreaks. The city offocials are being bought. Plain and simple. This isn't about people pulling a winning race card, it's pulling fast ones.
March 4, 2015, 10:35 am
Janet from dyker heights says:
Some of you are really getting off the beaten path, unless you actually live amongst what is going on, have a voice. The guy that I am attached to, has removed so many walls, I now have to be worried about the party wall structure. They also have 15-18 people living in a 2 family home. The other side of me they converted the garage into a studio apt, with a kitchen and a 3 pc. bath, the top floor was made into 3 apt...they made so much money that they purchase the house next to them in 3 yrs. for a million. I called the bld dept for 4 yrs. and nothing was resolved.
March 4, 2015, 12:51 pm
ty from pps says:
Oh My GOD! 15 people living in a 2-family home?! That's like 3 or 4 more than might "normally" live there! Aaack! Say it ain't so!
March 4, 2015, 1:29 pm
Me from Bay Ridge says:
These new owners are foolishly damaging the resale values of these homes in addition to the illegality of it all.
March 4, 2015, 2:46 pm
DOBer from BK says:
Illegal 5 stories going up with "official permits,"
Please! those are legal jobs and those are non combustible buildings with sprinkler systems. they are more safe than your town hall meeting place in the cellar. As for those dirty streets...sanitation should sweep them more.
March 4, 2015, 4:27 pm
BRDH from Bay Ridge says:
Race is too easy for the developers and the landlords to use in these comments as a way distract from all the facts that exist with the dangers of illegal conversions and the fact that the laws are being broken. The ridiculous racist comment said at a very opportune time at the meeting, a time when everyone would conveniently hear it, made the twittersphere? Sounds like a plant to me.

It would be nice to hear the same people defend the right for people not to be exploited by their landlords. It would be nice to hear the same people demand that the laws are followed.
March 4, 2015, 10:55 pm
Dyker-BayRidge from BkSouth says:
Of course everyone will latch onto one person's racist and bigoted remarks. It's what makes news, no? But of course none of the press will say that the man was clearly intoxicated at the meeting.

The ignorance in this comment thread is astounding and embarrassing. The sad part is that it only takes away from the bigger picture – that people are blatantly breaking the law, and the city has been doing nothing. EVERYONE should be on board with stopping this.
March 5, 2015, 10:14 am
Sun Yee from Sunset Park says:
I can't stand white people. They should all move back ti Pilgrimburg
March 8, 2015, 5:43 pm
Joe from Bensonhurst says:
So the Dyker residents and their community board call in thousands of complaints and then claim that somehow that's proof of some illegal conversion explosion. The true nexus of the so called town meeting was shouted out very clearly, drunk or not. More people ( pedestrians ) have been killed on city streets than some so called illegal conversion. Violation of local codes; building, zoning are administrative violations not criminal. Historically fines have been raised every few years. The city wide illegal conversion issue has not been resolved and apparently has now moved to Dyker. To have a bunch of politicians come out and propose bills that go nowhere is expected, that's what politicians do. Why not focus on the everyday legal murder on our streets. In 2014 more than 250 pedestrians/cyclists have been killed by a motor vehicle. Where is the town hall meeting ? Where is the outrage ? A $45,000 fine for an illegal apartment ? But a traffic ticket for running over a human ? Something is wrong here.
March 9, 2015, 7:26 pm
Ken from Sunset Park says:
Recipe for an Illegal Conversion

There is no retriction on the number of bathrooms per dwelling unit, yet only one kitchen is allowed per unit.

Solution? a three story brownstone, file for two bathrooms per floor, with one exisiting kitchen on each floor.

Get an approval and a permit from The Department of Buildings (DOB).

Do the work,,,,, get the three apartments signed-off by the Department of Buildings.

THEN......construct a partition down the middle of each floor and install and extra illegal kitchen (or share the same kitchen....why not?)

Voila!!! you have an illegal 6 family building!!!.

Its next to impossible for the DOB to inspect once the the work has been signed off.

And with all that extra CASH the unscrupulous landlords can move on to the next illegal conversion in no time!
Aug. 16, 2015, 8:55 pm

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