State Senator Tony Avella was given a tour of an alleged illegal hotel in Broadway-Flushing as part of the owner’s effort to demonstrate their intention to use the building as a family residence.
The senator had previously appeared at the home, located at 35-20 156th St., to attend a rally planned by the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners’ Association drawing attention to allegations that the home is being renovated to house a transient hotel with 14 bedrooms.
While around 80 people had been in attendance at the demonstration, as well as several local media outlets, the owners of the home were not notified in time to make an appearance on their own behalf. As a way to reach out to the community, Robert Wong, a lawyer hired by the Yang family, set up the meeting attended by Avella, local urban planner Paul Graziano, owner Qin Jin Yang and her husband, and the project’s architect, Shiming Tam.
“They want to carry on with the construction, but complaints are pouring in every day,” Tam said. “And the inspectors are forced to come here, and they pick on little things to justify why they are here.”
On April 27, the Department of Buildings (DOB) notified Qin Jin Yang of their intent to revoke the original building approval because of what deem a “questionable layout for a single family residence.” As part of the tour, the senator was led through the skeleton of a structure, with unfinished walls which afforded peeks of the street outside and a second floor which still had open holes straight through to the level below.
Avella said that he would be willing to discuss the matter further with the family to come to a conclusion.
“I appreciate the fact that you reached out,” Avella said. “That always shows good intentions.”
The Yangs originally submitted a plan for the home to have 14 bedrooms in March 2014, which was approved. After deciding that they wanted fewer bedrooms, the family amended the site plan to include 10 bedrooms and submitted it in April 2015. That site plan was rejected because it had fewer than the 18 bedrooms listed on a 1978 certificate of occupancy. According to Wong, the Yangs will submit a new plan, again with about 10 bedrooms, but the family wanted to first settle any remaining public contention.
Since 1989, the home has racked up 50 complaints with the DOB, but 42 of these occurred before the current owners came into control of the house in October 2013. Many of those complaints have similar allegations of the one-family home being illegally converted to accommodate transient hotel rooms or multiple separate dwellings.
Robert Hanophy, president of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association, has said that when the most recent renovations began, residents feared that they were in another battle against an illegal hotel in their neighborhood.
When asked if he would attend the tour of the home with Senator Avella, Hanophy told The Courier that he felt there was no need to participate because the association did not plan to pursue the matter further if the Yang’s moved in as a single family.
Although the signs may indicate that the community may have been wrong about 35-20 156 St., illegal conversions have been so pervasive in Queens that in March 1997 the Department of Buildings created the Queens Quality of Life Unit (QOL Unit) to oversee the increasing problem.
According to a report by the city Department of Buildings under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, investigating illegal conversions can be a challenging process because inspectors can be denied access to a property by its owner. The inspector would then have to get an access warrant, which can be difficult or nearly impossible to obtain. In 2008, the QOL Unit did not receive access to nearly 40 percent of properties for which they received complaints.