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City Council passes bill to crack down on illegal home conversions

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Landlords who are found in violation will face $15,000 in fines for each unit beyond the certificate of occupancy


Illegal conversions have long been a problem for the city and after years of complaints, City Council has passed a bill to hold landlords accountable for these dangerous dwellings.

According to Bklyner, City Council voted unanimously on new legislation, Intro 1218, that allows for the enforcement of fines on landlords and property owners that illegally convert homes into “modern tenement housing” with three or more units above what is legally allowed. Intro 1218 also gives the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) and the Environmental Control Board (ECB) the authority to obtain an access warrant to inspect properties that are suspected to have an illegal conversion and to impose penalties, up to $15,000 per violation unit beyond the certificate of occupancy.

“Illegal home conversions are a high-risk symptom of the overall housing crisis we have in this city,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams. “It is our responsibility as legislators to find these bad-acting landlords and thwart their illegal and very dangerous practices. It is also our responsibility to offer a realistic, affordable housing alternative to the residents.”

For years, illegal conversions have plagues neighborhoods in southern Brooklyn and is also a huge problem throughout Queens, however, violators have been hard to catch and even harder to collect fines from. According to Department of Finance records, the city is owed more than $640 million in building-related fines as of 2014, reports Bklyner.

The bill would allow for a one-time exception for owners that “reasonably did not know of such conversion and who promptly took steps to correct the condition.”

Residents in neighborhoods like Bay Ridge have largely supported the bill, however, some argue that it puts a burden on low-income New Yorkers who turn to these forms of housing to benefit from their below-market rates. But housing safety is the main concern among the bill’s supporters and they are calling upon the city to find other ways to address the affordable housing deficit in their communities.