NYS Assemblyman Harvey Epstein of Manhattan, and NY State Senator Pete Harckham of Westchester County have proposed a bill in the state legislature that would legalize accessory dwelling units (ADUs) throughout the state, including in the five boroughs of NYC. ADUs are smaller homes or apartments for rent on the same lot as a primary residence. This bill would legalize garage conversions, basement apartments, and other structures on lots already containing an occupied home as ADUs. The ADU would have to provide sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation accommodations just like a regular home.

We already have a huge problem with illegal conversions in our communities. Our schools are overcrowded, our infrastructure is strained, and street parking is increasingly difficult in many areas. The current problems with illegal conversions would be exacerbated with an influx of even more people occupying “legal” ADUs.

So many questions come to mind if this proposal moves forward. How many ADUs per property would be allowed? How will zoning regulations be affected? Could there be ADUs allowed in single family districts? Would there be a limit to the number of people who would be allowed to inhabit a property? Would an onsite parking space be required on the property for an additional ADU renter? How would safety issues be addressed to prevent injury or death during a fire or other emergency?

The Assembly Bill (4854) and the State Senate Bill (4547) are the same bill being considered at the state legislature. The bill answers some of the questions raised above. According to the bill, “designated areas shall include all areas zoned for single family or multifamily residential use, and all lots with an existing residential use.” The bill would also “authorize the creation of at least one accessory unit per lot in designated areas”. The bill would “provide reasonable standards for accessory dwelling units that include, but are not limited to height, landscape, architectural review and maximum size of a unit”. It further states, “in no case shall such standards unnecessarily impair the creation of accessory dwelling units”.

Regarding parking, the bill states that it “shall not require that off-street parking spaces be replaced if a garage, carport, or covered parking structure is demolished in conjunction with the construction of an accessory dwelling unit or converted to an accessory dwelling unit”. So where will the vehicles be parked? The streets, of course, if you can find a space.

The bill is supposed to help address the problem of a lack of affordable housing in NYC. But who is to say what is afford-able? Wouldn’t property owners be allowed to charge what-ever rent they deem necessary to ADU renters?

This bill is fraught with red flags and unacceptable problems. It is even worse than the “Planning Together” bill currently being considered at the NYC Council. The “Planning Together” comprehensive planning bill is a top-down bill that would force upzonings in all parts of our city and threaten the existence of one-family zoned districts. It came forward without any input from local residents, civic organizations or community boards.

The city legislation and the state legislation need to be rejected, and residents need to let their elected officials know how they feel about both proposals before they are pushed through and become law.

Henry Euler, Vice President
Queens Civic Congress