Crackdown has begun on Middle Village illegal apartments - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the June 2005 Juniper Berry Magazine

Crackdown has begun on Middle Village illegal apartments

Stop Work Orders posted on door.

Systematic Address by Address Investigations Reveal Widespread Building Abuses. Huge Fines Levied on a Host of Violations.

CIVIC TO FOCUS INITIALLY ON ILLEGAL CONVERSIONS AND COMMERCIAL VEHICLES

The Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), working with the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) has undertaken an initiative to expedite building related complaints in Middle Village and Maspeth. The results are a tremendous increase in the amount of fines for illegal buildings activity.

If a homeowner is renting an apartment illegally or parking commercial vehicles on their property, they just may be surprised by DOB inspectors armed with court orders, said Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. The crackdown has already begun and several steep fines have been issued in Middle Village and Maspeth.

In November 2004, the JPCA released information that the NYC Department of Buildings had over 12,000 outstanding complaints in Queens County. Since then DOB has been working diligently to address the backlog. In January 2005, JPCA President Bob Holden and Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force member Manny Caruana met with DOB Commissioner Patricia Lancaster to address concerns about the out of control backlog numbers in Queens. Since that meeting, DOB has reduced backlogs down to just over 1,000.

Court Orders Coming

In May the Juniper Park Civic started preparing a list of the most egregious properties in Maspeth and Middle Village. These are properties that are causing the most problems in the community and their owners have refused entry to DOB inspectors.

Maspeth and Middle Village continues to be plagued by illegal rentals, particularly basement rentals. They are ruining our quality of life and draining our tax dollars to their limit.

Additional people are living here, roaming in our community driveways, parking their cars, usually multiple junk cars, all over our streets, to say nothing of the additional garbage they produce.

They are crowding our schools, making it hard for everyone to get a decent education. Many times there are no background checks on these people and I'm sure no owner ever pays taxes on the income the renters produce.

Who do you think seeks out these kind of rentals? They are usually transients. For instance, we have had drug pushers, prostitutes, pedophiles, you name it and, as I said, they are roaming in our community driveways. Illegal rentals are not an innocent activity, one that we can all pretend don't exist. They do, and we are all paying the heavy price on our quality of life and safety. Read the newspapers, how many times are crimes committed by people with unsavory backgrounds who prey on the vulnerable in our neighborhoods?

How many more locks can we put on our doors? The Juniper Park Civic Association has been on this problem for many years now and when Mayor Bloomberg was at our recent JPCA Town Hall Meeting, I put the question to him about when we will get relief and some kind of tangible help from the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB). Queens had been running far behind the other NYC boroughs, with 12,000 plus backlog complaints, an outstanding number, way off the radar screen, in comparison to the other boroughs.

Department of Building Commissioner, Patricia Lancaster, who was also at our JPCA Town Meeting, answered the questions I posed to the Mayor. She told us that the DOB recognizes the problem and the glaring laxity in Queens and will do what is necessary to remedy the situation.

Recognizing the problem is a first step towards a solution. Fines are heavy so, again, don't take our determination to make headway in solving the problem, lightly.

Here is an explanation about basements and cellars, which have differing characteristics. A basement is a story partly below curb level but having at least onehalf of its height above the curb level. A cellar is an enclosed space having more than one-half of its height below curb level. So, what is considered a basement apartment in Middle Village, may actually be a cellar rental.

Cellars in private dwellings can NEVER be lawfully rented or occupied. (A secondary kitchen for accessory cooking may be located in the cellar so long as approval from the Department of Buildings is obtained prior to the installation of such kitchen.) Basements in private dwellings can NEVER be lawfully rented or occupied unless the conditions meet the minimum requirements for light, air, sanitation and egress, and have received approval by the Department of Buildings. Owners with illegally converted basements and cellars may face civil and criminal penalties. Occupants of illegal basement and cellar apartments face potential dangers such as carbon monoxide poisoning, inadequate light and ventilation and inadequate egress in the event of a fire. Occupants of illegal basement and cellar apartments may be ordered by the City to vacate or leave any illegal basement or cellar apartment.

If you live in a building that has an illegal rental, you may withhold your rent until the rental is vacated or legalized. The legal renters are in danger from all of the conditions cited above. Many of the walk-in apartments in our neighborhood are illegal. Since the majority of renters, legal and illegal, are not familiar with the law, they probably don't know that they may be entitled to a rent refund for the time they lived in a dwelling while there were illegal rentals. Real estate agents too, are responsible for the problem by promoting illegal rentals and they bear their own burden of guilt. Also, misrepresenting the status of a house to an insurance company is a crime of insurance fraud. A lawyer should always be consulted to clarify the issue if you plan to pursue restitution.

As you can see from the last paragraph, the illegal rental issue has many legal ramifications.We urge everyone to stay alert to the problems and call 311 when you see illegal rentals. You usually do not have to give your name. The DOB has told us that they will investigate all complaints and where necessary, get warrants for entry into the questionable houses. Remember, the safety of all of us, even the surrounding houses, is at stake.

Illegal Building Construction

Through the efforts of the JPCA, several construction sites throughout Maspeth and Middle Village have been issued stop work orders. One of the most blatant examples is located at 58-22 74th Street. A new house was built in a sideyard with very suspicious and questionable construction techniques.

The JPCA reported the street tree removal to the police. The 50 year old tree was being cut down by three men armed with only a chain saw and an extension cord. They didn't even bother to secure the area from the public.

Both the 104th Precinct and Parks Enforcement responded. The crew was issued a $10,000 summons by the police. That same week prompted by a complaint from the JPCA, inspectors visited the site and slapped two stopwork order on the property. Please report any suspicious construction to 311 and the JPCA (718) 651-5865 or by e-mail to {letters@junipercivic.com}.

Commercials Vehicles

The Juniper Park Civic Association has received dozens of calls from members complaining about commercial vehicles parked on residential property. It is illegal to park commercial vehicles on residential properties.

A crackdown on this violation has already begun. Several violations have been issued. Some owners have incurred these fines as a cost of doing business however the DOB has promised follow-up with escalating fines to make it more difficult and expensive for the violators. Instead of renting commercial parking for their vehicles these selfish homeowners would rather compromise the quality of life and beauty of the neighborhood.

This will not be tolerated in Middle Village and Maspeth.

The JPCA will keep the problem on the front burner and issue follow-ups on our progress. If the vehicle is on the street, it is a police matter. If it's in a driveway, sideyard or backyard, it's a buildings violations. Call 311 to report such vehicles. Again if the problem persists please call, write or e-mail the JPCA. Protecting the beauty and quality of life of the community is the charge of the Juniper Park Civic Association and we strongly believe the duty and responsibility of every resident.