By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Alarmed at the increasing incidents in Bay Ridge in which developers are buying one-family homes, gutting the structures and then turning them into multiple unit dwellings in an apparent violation of the city’s building code, Councilman Vincent Gentile said he is drafting legislation aimed at helping inspectors gain access to properties for the purpose of determining if laws are being broken.
"Public safety will always be my top priority in addressing concerns about illegal conversions taking place in our community. My staff and I continue to work closely with the FDNY, the Department of Buildings and the Mayor’s special multi-agency Housing Access Task Force to crack down on dangerous illegal conversions,” Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) told the Brooklyn Eagle in an email on June 23. “On the legislative side, I am drafting a bill that would allow the Department of Buildings to use circumstantial evidence when determining if a building has been illegally converted. My bill would allow inspectors who couldn't gain access to still cite a building owner if circumstantial evidence of illegal conversion – such as too many mailboxes, doorbells, garbage cans or utility connections – was found."
Under current city law, inspectors from the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) often face obstacles when attempting to gain access to buildings suspected of being in violation of building codes.
DOB does its best to investigate complaints, many of which are called into the city’s 311 hotline by residents, “but access by officials to offending premises is most often denied at the doorstep,” said Ann Falutico, chairman of the Zoning and Land Use Committee of Community Board 10.
The community board is working with local residents to see if there is a way to stop the proliferation of single family to multiple-unit housing construction in Bay Ridge.
As the Brooklyn Eagle reported on June 22, Bay Ridge officials and longtime residents are growing increasingly concerned that the neighborhood will become overcrowded with unsafe, uninspected housing if nothing is done.
Developers are not permitted to do construction work unless city permits are obtained. Turning a single or a two-family home into an apartment building with six or eight units requires extensive paperwork and engineering reports. Developers are also required to submit proof that the building will have fire exits and other safety measures.
The trick is to catch the violators, something that is easier said than done.
“Although observations of only the exterior of a residence can sometimes give indication of an illegal conversion, access to the interior is crucial,” Falutico stated in a Zoning Committee report that was presented to the community board at its June 16 meeting.
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,” Falutico said. Not many residents are willing to go as far as to sign an affidavit.
Meanwhile, homeowners who have lived in Bay Ridge for decades are continuing to raise 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 many cases, the construction work is being done without the proper permits from the DOB, according to angry homeowners, who said they are growing frustrated as they helplessly 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 re-construction usually results in an eight-unit multiple dwelling and perhaps has many as 32 people living in a building that once housed a single family, or at most, two families, said Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10.
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.
Despite the difficulty in gaining access to properties to conduct inspections, DOB is cracking down on violators. The agency has issued “Stop Work” orders at three locations in recent weeks, Beckmann said.