Bay Ridge in danger of overcrowding, longtime homeowners say

Bay Ridge is such a desirable neighborhood to live in, people will do anything to move there, even cheat.

That’s what longtime residents are telling the Brooklyn Eagle. Homeowners are raising the alarm over an increasing number of one and two-family homes that are being sold for big bucks and are then completely gutted by the new owners apparently with the intent of converting the private houses into multiple dwellings for large groups of tenants.

And in some cases, the construction work is being done without the proper permits from the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB), according to angry homeowners, who said they are growing frustrated as they watch their neighborhood rapidly changing around them.

“People are buying homes in Bay Ridge under the radar,” Bob Cassara, who lives on Bay Ridge Parkway, told the Eagle. “The house down the street from me, a beautiful house, was sold for $1 million. They got permits from the city for minor renovations and then they totally gutted it from stem to stern. That doesn't sound like a minor renovation to me.”

The re-construction usually results in the opening of an eight-unit multiple dwelling and perhaps has many as 32 people living in a building that once housed a single family, or at the most, two families, said Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10. “It seems that the intention is to sub-divide the house,” she told the Eagle.

The ramifications are potentially devastating. “It changes the density of the block. It increases the number of cars on the block. It stretches city services such as water and sanitation. And it causes our public schools to become even more overcrowded than they are now,” Beckmann said.

In addition, the construction work itself can pose a danger to surrounding homes, according to Beckmann. “These are major renovation projects. We’re seeing extensive excavations of basements. Most of our housing stock in Bay Ridge was built in the early 1900s. We are getting an increasing number of calls from residents who are concerned about the structural integrity of their homes.”

Besides, said Beckmann, you can’t just create a multiple dwelling out of whole cloth. “You have to bring engineers in. You have to register with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. You have to establish a proper egress. There are safety issues you are required to address,” she said.

DOB has issued “Stop Work” orders at three locations in recent weeks, Beckmann said.

Ann Falutico, chairman of Community Board 10’s Zoning Committee, issued a report on the troubling situation to the board at its June 16 meeting. The committee is taking the matter so seriously that it had David Nussbaum, a community affairs official with DOB, speak at a committee meeting earlier this month.

Many of the construction projects are taking place on Bay Ridge Parkway, Falutico said.

“The proliferation of illegal residential conversions continues to be a major problem in our district with a recent concentration noted on Bay Ridge Parkway near Tenth Avenue. Although this is a complex social issue, illegal conversions threaten the quality of life for all residents as well as putting strain on public amenities and services,” she said in her report. “Offenders display blatant disregard for zoning and code regulations, illegally establishing full apartments and single-room rental occupancies, often creating structural and fire hazards during construction and post construction.” 

DOB does its best to investigate complaints “but access by officials to offending premises is most often denied at the doorstep,” Falutico said.

Nussbaum told Falutico and her committee that DOB follows up on complaints made to 311 and attempts to gain access to the address of the possible illegal conversion on a first occasion leaving a notice if access is not achieved. If the second attempt to gain access is unsuccessful, the complaint is closed-out.

“Although observations of only the exterior of a residence can sometimes give indication of an illegal conversion, access to the interior is crucial,” Falutico said. In many cases, however, DOB’s hands are tied. “To go beyond the two attempts to gain access to the inside of a residence, requires a search warrant which are issued in limited numbers and requires the cooperation and willingness on the part of the complainant who must be willing to submit signed affidavit.” 

But in cases where the building code violations are deemed to be hazardous, an order to vacate the building is issued.

In cases where the violations are not hazardous, the violations are referred to the Environmental Control Board (ECB), an administrative court, where fines are imposed in addition to the civil penalties imposed directly by DOB.

U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-C-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Staten Island) and state Sen. Marty (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) jointly sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio urging the city to immediately crack down.

“For generations, neighborhoods in southeast Brooklyn like Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights have resisted overdevelopment to preserve that signature character and quality of life that make them so great. Unfortunately, the latest culprit is homeowners secretly converting one and two family homes into illegal multi-occupancy residences that are dangerous and completely out of character with the community,” Grimm said.

"The illegal conversions of one and two family homes into multiple dwellings and SRO's is plaguing our community and endangering residents. We must get a handle on this situation so to address one of the greatest challenges to our present day quality of life," Golden said.