It is not surprising to pick up a newspaper and see the many articles on illegal rentals. Every neighborhood has them and the complaints have grown tremendously. The chilling effects of these rentals resounds throughout our communities. The tragic results of the practice as witnessed by the disastrous fire in Maspeth emphasizes the problem and it also evokes sadness when we realize that it is the disadvantaged and and uneducated who are the victims.
In a weak attempt to look like the good guys we often hear the owners of these properties state that they are an answer to the affordable housing problem. The high cost of the rentals does not support their argument. Also, the owners often claim ignorance of the zoning laws that forbid such rentals. It would be interesting to see how many of the owners report the income to the taxing authorities.
Now City and state legislatures have enacted new legal weapons to curb illegal conversions of residences. Featuring higher fines, longer jail terms, and tougher enforcement strategies, the proposed law will not make illegal landlords happy.
The new law serves up a series of six new penalties:
•Maximum financial penalties would be doubled to $20,000.
•The city will act to recover $1,000 per day from owners who have illegally converted their one and two-family homes.
•Landlords flagrantly violating this law can be sentenced up to one year in jail.
•Home improvement firms that have been served with stop-work notices for illegal conversions, and continue that work, will have their licenses suspended
•The Environmental Control Board (ECB), which adjudicates this law, will be required to forward its findings of illegal conversions to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the N.Y.S. Dept. of Taxation, and the City Dept. of Finance.
•Relocation costs of tenants will be charged to landlords of illegal apartments.
Renters have a very valuable and legal tool in their corner. They can withhold their rent until proper steps are taken to legalize the apartments. Very importantly, the other renters in the building legal or not can also withhold their rent until the corrections are made.
In response to all the complaints, the Building Department has hired additional inspectors.
Hopefully there will be a halt to the illegal rentals and the rest of the communities can get their rightful share of the tax dollars they pay.
HOW TO REPORT AN ILLEGAL BUILDING CONVERSION
Ted Birkhan, Buildings Department spokesman, offers the following simple pointers:
-Your information must be specific. Describe the violation (e.g. additional rooms, new residences, additional mail boxes). Where is the violation (e.g. new residence in garage).
-If possible, give the best time for inspection (e.g. weekends, after 7 p.m.).
Call Buildings Dept., (718) 520-3402 on weekdays, between 9 and 5; or, call Community Board 5-(718) 366-1834. Always get the name of the person you speak to and note the date and time of the call on your records. This y important in order to encourage accountability.
Write to: Buildings Dept., Queens Borough Commissioner’s Office, 126-06 Queens Blvd., Kew Gardens, New York 11415.
The building inspector becomes the complainant under the new “nail-and-mail” rules.