Tag Archives: illegal conversions

Elmhurst landlord charged with renting illegal, potentially dangerous conversions


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

An Elmhurst landlord has been charged with endangering the lives of 46 residents, including 12 children, by renting them illegally converted one-and two-family houses and garages, the district attorney announced.

Landlord Segundo Chimbay, 48, has been charged in connection with renting out converted houses and garages in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, charging tenants from $850 to $1,4000 a month.

“In addition to putting a strain on city services, such as parking, transportation, waste disposal and schools, illegal conversion endanger the lives of building residents as well as firefighters and other personnel who in responding to an emergency are confronted by a maze of rooms with no way out,” said District Attorney Richard A. Brown.

The Building Department’s Quality of Life and Queens Borough Enforcement Units had found alleged illegal conditions at a two-family house at 48-14 94th Street in Elmhurst; a two-family house at 35-39 92nd Street in Jackson Heights; a two-family house at 35-41 92nd Street in Jackson Heights; and a one-family house at 40-33 Forley Street in Elmhurst.

Chimbay is presently awaiting arraignment in Queens Criminal Court on charges including first-degree scheme to defraud, second-degree reckless endangerment and violation of the New York City Administrative Code for failing to comply with an order to vacate. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.

“Illegal conversions can kill, and this arrest sends a clear message that property owners who create these dangerous living conditions will face serious consequences,” said NYC Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri.

In addition to the criminal charges, Chimbay has been named as a respondent in a $1.6 million civil asset forfeiture action for allegedly failing to comply with prior vacate orders and building code violations. The suit was filed in Queens Supreme Court by the District Attorney’s Special Proceedings Bureau, said Brown.

The Red Cross is temporarily relocating and providing shelter for the 46 tenants due to the reported dangerous situations at the homes, including fire hazards, illegal construction, unauthorized gas lines and many others.

 

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Audit finds Department of Buildings is ‘incapable of improving itself’


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) is falling down on the job.

“The Buildings Department is just dysfunctional and incapable of improving itself,” said Comptroller John Liu. “Its inability to perform basic tasks … bode poorly not just for the department, but for residents and neighborhoods too.”

A recent audit by the comptroller’s office found the DOB is slow in responding to complaints, and has not improved or resolved problems found in earlier audits.

A 2009 audit found DOB inspectors failed to gain access to nearly 40 percent of properties they received complaints about in 2008. The department also sought warrants for less than one percent of inaccessible properties and did not follow up on vacate orders.

Since then, the rate of failed inspection attempts has more than doubled, according to a new audit. The department also only partially implemented a handful of 14 recommendations made in the last audit, Liu said.

But a DOB spokesperson said many recommendations in the report have already been implemented. The department has also launched citywide safety campaigns, a task force to inspect illegal dwellings and “undercover investigations” to target illegal apartments for rent.

“The department is doing more than ever to combat the dangers of illegal conversions,” the spokesperson said. “The department has aggressively targeted illegal apartments most at-risk for fire — with a vacate rate nearly five times greater than before.”

Roughly 20,000 complaints, mostly from Queens, regarding illegal conversions get fielded through the department annually, the DOB said.

But grievances about 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.

Illegal conversions have been the root of many fire-related deaths at home, including a 2011 blaze that killed one and injured five in Woodside.

 

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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.

DOB addresses illegal conversions


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Open Meeting 1-25-12W

The Department of Buildings was at the last open meeting of the Richmond Hill Block Association on January 25. 

Liasons Anthony Iuliano and Byron Munoz were the guest speakers, explaining how illegal conversion complaints are processed through the system. They encouraged residents to follow through by giving complaint numbers to an elected official’s office or community organization for maximum results.