Tag Archives: DOB

‘House of Horrors’ still a problem in Woodhaven

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

Some people in Woodhaven are still worried about what has been labelled the “House of Horrors.”

Residents voiced continued concerns at the September meeting of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA) about the house at 87-19 90th Street, where last year an 18-year-old was murdered.

The Department of Buildings (DOB) recently sealed the back door of the house with concrete blocks, WRBA President Ed Wendell said. The DOB left before the cement had dried, however, and vandals kicked in the bricks.

The problem with the house, according to Community Affairs officer Jose Severino of the 102nd Precinct, was that the house has been foreclosed and is owned by a bank. This means if the police do make an arrest for trespassing, a representative from the bank has to sign an affidavit for the trespassing charge, he said. Because many of the banks are from out of state, it is nearly impossible to get a bank representative to comply; as a result, the suspects must be let go after a certain amount of time.

Severino went on to say this was a nationwide problem as more houses are foreclosed and left dormant by banks.

Assemblymember Mike Miller suggested collecting a list of foreclosed homes, finding out which banks owned the houses, and setting up a hotline so a bank representative is always available to sign an affidavit. Miller said he would also contact the district attorney’s office to see what options there are.


Queens tops city in illegal conversions

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo by Michael Pantelidis

Some landlords attempting to maximize profits are illegally converting spaces at a potentially deadly cost.

Hazardous homes, transformed from single-family residences into multi-unit dwellings, have residents throughout Queens worried that faulty wiring and unsafe plumbing could cause fires, floods and possibly the loss of human lives. A majority of these residences, predominantly installed in cellars and attics, lack a secondary means of egress and can prevent tenants from escaping during an emergency.

According to Department of Buildings (DOB) spokesperson Tony Sclafani, the agency fields roughly 20,000 complaints regarding illegal conversions annually, most of which come from Queens. To manage the high volume of complaints from the borough, the DOB created a separate component called the Quality of Life Unit, which is solely dedicated to dealing with Queens-based grievances.

Illegal conversions garner a B rating on the DOB’s priority-arranged scale of complaints — the same level earned by improper fencing, exposed elevator shafts and malfunctioning boilers.

Many neighborhoods throughout the borough are speckled with complaints against residences they believe may be unlawfully harboring multiple families. Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association, said his organization receives several calls each month regarding illegal conversions.

“If you walk by a two-family house and they have 17 satellite dishes, you know there’s a problem,” he said.

Wendell said those most likely to spot these unlawful abodes are neighbors who are reluctant to turn over their street mates for fear of retaliation.

A Woodhaven resident, who wished to remain anonymous, estimates that he has complained about illegal apartments nearly 80 times. Since moving to the neighborhood in the mid 1980s, the resident said he’s seen his block undergo a transformation as mailboxes triple and parking is suddenly impossible.

“A perfectly good home is sold, then its converted,” said the resident. “You see a lot of construction and then there are a large number of people moving in and out of the same premises. We can see externally by the behavior of the people who move in and out that it’s not being occupied by one or two families.”

The local claimed that the increase in residences and people has caused property values in the neighborhood to plummet, something he said translates to low-priced rentals and low-income residents whom he believes bring crime to the neighborhood and degenerate the quality of the area.

“The DOB says they’re doing the best they can but the problem seems to persist,” said the resident, who said that regardless of the numerous complaints logged, the agency has yet to take action against a single residence.

According to Sclafani, the DOB has intensified its approach to finding illegal homes, conducting undercover investigations to seek them out. Since 2010, the number of entry warrants into unlawful dwellings has doubled and the agency distributed more than 160,000 educational flyers, warning residents about the danger of living in an illegally converted home.

A fire in an illegally converted apartment building on 86th Street in Brooklyn in December 2010 that resulted in the death of five tenants led to the filing of manslaughter charges against the owner, according to Sclafani.

In 2011, a fire raged through a home in Woodside, killing one and injuring five others. Upon investigation, it was uncovered the fire began in an illicit apartment.

The DOB conducts 300,000 citywide inspections annually of construction sites in previously existing buildings to ensure work is up to code. In 2011 more than 12,000 vacate orders were presented where dwellings posed a threat to tenants’ safety.

Douglaston home destroyed by fire had $1,000s in violations

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence Cullen

A Douglaston home under renovation, ravaged last week by a three-alarm fire, had incurred a laundry list of complaints and racked up thousands of dollars in violations, according to city agencies.

The 39-12 Douglaston Parkway dwelling received 44 complaints since March 2008 from callers saying the ongoing construction work being done at the site exceeded the scope of the approved permit, according to the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB).

All complaints were listed as closed, according to the agency, but homeowner David Wei Huang was also pinned for two violations from the DOB and 17 from the Environmental Control Board (ECB). Of those violations, nine were still outstanding, according to the DOB, and were related to the ongoing construction.

Huang was issued a $2,500 fine when construction at the site was found not to be in compliance with approved plans and another $1,200 for failing to safeguard the public and his property. There were other violations for working with an expired permit, the DOB said.

Permits were first issued by the DOB to extend the building horizontally in September 2009, the department said.

The unoccupied home went up in flames last Tuesday, August 14 at around 7:30 p.m., the FDNY said. No injuries were reported.

Bystander Thomas Perrino said he heard three explosions from inside the house, which he said sounded like gas tanks exploding.

The entire building was already swallowed in flames before more than 100 firefighters from 33 units extinguished the blaze by around 9:30 p.m. The infrastructure of the home’s second floor had completely caved in at that point, said the FDNY.

The fire was deemed accidental, according to a spokesperson for the fire department, and was caused by construction work being done with pipes and torches.

Huang could not be reached for comment.

— With additional reporting by Terence M. Cullen

DOB puts kibosh on 12-story hotel in Fresh Meadows

| Phertling@queenscourier.com

DSC_0388 (2)w

A plan to build a hotel in Fresh Meadows was turned down by the city after the developer failed to comply with the building code and zoning regulations, officials said.

The Department of Buildings (DOB) on July 31 rejected Mayflower Business Group’s proposal to put up a 12-story lodging house at 61-27 186th Street for a number of reasons, an agency spokesperson said.

The proposed hotel exceeded the maximum allowed floor-area ratio for the lot and also provided fewer than the required number of parking spaces, said the spokesperson.

Now the developer has 12 months to revise the plan and resubmit an application for the empty lot, where three homes once stood.

In the meantime, the bid has stirred up some controversy with nearby residents unsure of what the future will bring.

“There is no need for a hotel at that location,” said Jim Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association. “We’re not close to the airport. Where is the need for a 12-story hotel with 135 units?”

The same is being asked by most people living in the area, who have also voiced their complaints with Gallagher.

“The hotel would block out the sunlight,” said Christopher Chee, who has lived across the lot for 17 years. “There is no reason for this.”

Chee, 57, believes a hotel would add chaos to a street already congested by vehicles. He remembers at least three instances where his property was ruined due to drivers making U-turns on his block.

David Fung, 25, also sees a potential disaster in the making.

“I have a hard time backing out my car,” said Fung. “It’s a very, very narrow street.”

Gallagher hopes to negotiate soon with the developers, who were unable to be contacted for a response. His goal, he said, is to keep the area a residential community for the future.

“This is a place where people raise families,” Gallagher said. “And we’re very proud of it.”


Richmond Hill rezoning wreaks havoc on religious institution

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

A Hindu temple in Richmond Hill has been battling with the Department of Buildings (DOB), after the mandir was hit with several violations that both the building owner and priest say were incorrect and unfair.

The DOB began to issue violations in January for working without permits on electricity and plumbing, said Ali Mahmood, who owns the building on 101st Avenue. He went on to say that the DOB claimed the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) for the structure was not listed as commercial.

Mahmood took the agency to court and argued that since the structure was erected before 1938, it did not require a C of O. The entire block, he said, was actually mixed-use and he had been paying commercial taxes on the building for years.

The next court hearing will be on Tuesday, August 21, and Mahmood said he will now have a lawyer with him.

Mahmood, who said he is Muslim, has not taken rent payments from the mandir, as they have not been able to raise money.

The building battle comes as some Richmond Hill residents and business owners protest the zoning laws that were approved late last month.

All projects, a DOB spokesperson said, are affected by new zoning laws, however.

“When it comes to rezoning,” the spokesperson said, “all buildings are impacted if a proposed conversion, enlargement or development is planned.”

Mahin Gosine, the mandir’s priest and a sociology professor, said the larger problem was the city’s attitude toward the Indian community. Right now, he said, the city was enforcing its power on the community to the point where residents feel it is discrimination.

“This is a form of behavior that’s meted out toward the whole Indian community,” Gosine said.

Gosine said the community was open to having a discussion with the city to find out what structures had been built wrong, or what needed to be done to correct things.

“We are willing to sit and talk,” he said, “but the city has to be forthcoming.”

Mahmood also said shutting down the mandir affected the area’s culture, as many residents spend their little time off at their houses of worship.

“The only few hours these people have is used to come to the church to meditate,” Mahmood said. “People [are] trying to preserve their culture.”

National Weather Service issues high wind advisory

| brennison@queenscourier.com

The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a high wind watch and said damaging winds may blow through the city this weekend.

Strong winds are expected to begin tonight and last into Saturday evening.

Gusts may reach up to 60 mph, with sustained winds of 40 mph, according to the NWS.

The strongest winds will come after midnight.

The winds strength means there is potential for downed trees and power lines.

The Department of Buildings is warning property owners to take precautionary measures to secure safety.  The DOB said to:

  • Bring inside loose, lightweight objects such as lawn furniture, potted plants, garbage cans, garden tools and toys.
  • Anchor objects that would be unsafe outside, such as gas grills or propane tanks.
  • Close up and secure patio umbrellas.
  • Secure retractable awnings.
  • Remove aerial antennas and satellite television dishes.



Crusade to clean up community

| brennison@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Robert Holden

A local civic leader wants his community to be a sight for sore eyes, which first requires ridding it of eyesores.

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, is pushing the Department of Buildings (DOB) to padlock properties with violations and unpaid fines that are a blemish on the community.

After successfully getting the DOB to investigate a scofflaw on 84th Street in Middle Village, Holden is turning his attention to other neighborhood blights — including one at 60-37 Wetherole Street.

The property has nine open violations dating back seven years and $14,500 in unpaid fines, according to DOB records.

Holden said the house has been an eyesore for nearly a decade.

Violations have been levied against the property for failing to maintain the building’s walls and storing vehicles without license plates in the front yard.

The owner of the house is listed as Ted Muschunas, who was unable to be contacted for the story.

55 gang members busted in $2M ID theft ring involving Jewish charity

| jlane@queenscourier.com

Graphic by Jay Lane

55 gang members busted in $2M ID theft ring involving Jewish charity

Over 50 gang members have been busted for running an identity theft ring that targeted people who’d given to charity, prosecutors announced today. The Manhattan DA’s office said 55 members of the Bloods, Crips and Outlaws were arraigned after taking part in a check scam. Prosecutors said a worker at the United Jewish Appeal, which is based in Midtown, would photocopy checks the charity received from donors. The employee, Tracy Nelson, allegedly sold the checks to the gang members, who then assumed the identities of those who had donated money. As part of the same ID theft ring, prosecutors said they had also arrested three JP Morgan Chase tellers, a worker at TD Bank and a US postal worker. Read More: New York Post


In stunner, Stanford yanks tech-campus bid

After months of pressing its case to open a tech campus in the city, Stanford University abruptly pulled out of the competition Friday. In a statement, Stanford President John Hennessy said, “after several weeks of negotiations with New York City, university leaders and the Stanford Board of Trustees have determined that it would not be in the best interests of the university to continue to pursue the opportunity.” Read More: Crain’s New York


The Courier plays Santa for South Queens Boys & Girls Club

The Queens Courier got a sneak peek of what Christmas morning would be like for the youngsters of the South Queens Boys & Girls Club (SQBGC). On Thursday, December 15, Courier reporters — playing Santa and his Christmas elves — distributed hundreds of toys to the club’s underprivileged kids. Read More: Queens Courier


DOB Investigates Chelsea Scaffold Collapse

An investigation has been launched after a construction scaffold collapsed onto a busy Manhattan sidewalk during Friday’s morning rush. It happened around 8 a.m. on 14th Street near Seventh Avenue in Chelsea. No one was hurt. “The doorman called up and said we need to evacuate. He didn’t say why. We just looked outside and saw all of the fire trucks and ambulances, so I came down and saw the scaffolding had collapsed,” said one building resident. Read More: NY1


Two Missing NJ Girls Found Safe Upstate

Police have tracked down two young New Jersey girls who were the subject of an AMBER Alert earlier this morning. Investigators say Emma Trapp, 5, and her 20-month-old sister Sophia were found unharmed at a motel near Bear Mountain in Orange County. The kids are in the custody right now of the New York State police. Old Bridge police officers and officers, investigators from the Middlesex County prosecutors office are up there right now as well as I understand the FBI,” said Captain Robert Weiss of the Old Bridge Police Department. The girls’ father, Anthony Trapp, 39, was found dead of an apparent suicide inside one of the motel’s rooms. Read More: NY1


Bloomberg invites DC lawmakers to attend slain cop’s funeral to highlight illegal gun sales


If it were up to him, members of Congress would be attending the funeral of police Officer Peter Figoski to see for themselves the havoc wreaked when an illegal gun falls into the hands of a career criminal. Bloomberg got to discussing illegal weapons in a response to a Tweet on his radio show this morning from a listener asking why the city was wasting so much time pushing for stricter federal gun controls. Read More: Daily News