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10 Tips on How to Avoid Renting an Illegal Death Trap

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Yesterday the city went public with its undercover investigation into landlords renting illegally converted apartments, mostly in Queens. The sting?complete with dramatic video!?was launched in the wake of last year's Woodside fire in an illegal basement apartment that killed three people. Today the Department of Buildings keeps the ball rolling by issuing a list of tips to help renters recognize apartments that may be run afoul of the law and pose safety hazards. They include such helpful advice as beware of bargains, and can pretty much all be summarized in two words: Skip Craigslist.

Here's the list, in the DOB's words:

1) Know the market. Be wary of units that advertise significantly lower price points for comparable apartments in the area.

2) Beware of the words “basement” or “attic.” Advertisements that use these words are often for apartments that typically lack adequate exits.

3) Avoid apartments that have rooms without windows or very small windows. These are often found in illegal cellar or basement apartments. Landlords will sometimes describe the ones with very small windows as “sunny” to entice renters.

4) Beware of the word “flex.” “Flex” implies that the apartment can be converted into a multi-bedroom unit using pressurized walls. The installation and/or construction of a wall without the proper permits from the Department are illegal.

5) “Utilities included” is a red flag. A landlord may not want utilities under another name connected to the property because those residents would violate the legal occupancy of the building.

6) Avoid apartments with odd layouts. They are often described as “unique” or “interesting” and are oddly situated (i.e. a shower installed in the kitchen).

7) Be cautious when a landlord refuses to disclose the exact address. Landlords advertising illegal apartments may ask to meet a potential renter before exposing the address to possible regulation or penalty.

8) Beware of apartments where you can’t have mail delivered. Landlords advertising illegal apartments will often request that tenants obtain a separate P.O. Box.

9) Beware of no-lease apartments. Be suspicious of a landlord who declines to draw up a lease, requests a month-to-month agreement or requires cash payments.

10) Check for adequate means of egress and look out for locked doors in the unit. A tenant should be able to access all available exits either directly from the unit or a public hallway.
· City's Undercover Sting Busts Naughty Landlords—on Video! [Curbed