The Civic Scene: Marshall, local leaders discuss illegal building

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procedure of her predecessor, Marshall acted as the presiding officer. The purpose of this task force is to deal with...

By Bob Harris

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall convened her Illegal

Conversions Task Force July 2 at Borough Hall. In a switch from the

procedure of her predecessor, Marshall acted as the presiding officer. The purpose of this task force is to deal with illegal construction and apartments.

The other important task force supported by civic associations and block associations

is the Zoning Task Force, whose purpose is to identify and work to downzone areas so

speculators and builders can’t construct large apartment houses in residential areas.

Attending this meeting were civic association leaders, representatives of several

council members, state senators, assembly members, community board managers and

city agencies. Marshall welcomed the participants with remarks that showed that her

years as a council member from western Queens had familiarized her with illegal conversions.

Marshall and her counsel, Hugh Weinberg and deputy counsel, Monica Norris, as well as Department of

Buildings Borough Commissioner Magdi Mossad, Fire Department Battalion Chief

John Acerno and Environmental Control Board Representative Ray Scanlon were there to

discuss possible solutions.

Marshall explained the threats posed by illegal apartments, such as

the hazards of overloaded electrical wiring, which can cause loss of life; basement apartments, which often are not healthy to live in; and the

strain on city services. She wants to set up workshops to inform people how to create

legal apartments. The DOB handed out a sheet titled, “Resolving An

Illegal Conversion Violation.”

This issue was discussed for years at Zoning Task Force meetings until the Illegal

Conversions Task Force was set up. One must remember that there is a market for illegal

apartments because we have not guarded our borders enough and have so many illegal

aliens who want rooms, even if they are small and unhealthy. Some

speculators build several small illegal cubicles to make money because the fines are so

small, while others buy a house and use the illegal tenants to help pay the mortgage.

Weinberg spoke of Local Law 65, under which home contractors can have their

license removed if they do illegal work, as well as nail and mail violations, which are official notifications by the city. He didn’t

mention that the owners hire illegal workers to do the construction. I

have yet to see a newspaper article about a contractor who had his or her license revoked.

A state law was passed that put any fines on the tax bill as a lien; however, under state law the tax lien only is valid for eight years,

although the building violation remains until it is corrected. This can be picked up

by a title search for a mortgage unless the buyers use cash and don’t care about a

violation because they will create more violations. It was brought out that some

owners use relatives with the same name so ownership is hard to trace.

Mossad spoke of eight inspectors who work during the day or night

looking for illegal building. Each inspector usually makes 13 stops per shift. Mossad said the system works on “complaints, inspections and enforcement.” In

May there were 1,271 inspections with 356 violations given and 249 with no action

necessary. Four apartments were vacated. Why haven’t I read of these activities in

the newspapers?

Mossad said that trucks shouldn’t be parked in front of

houses or in driveways at night. Trucks parked at a curb is a police problem, while parking

next to a house is a Department of Buildings problem.

During the meeting people complained that a curb cut

permit is issued for one location and then the owner puts the curb cut somewhere else and

paves the lawn, parking cars or trucks on it. Mossad said that one can only pave

at the side of a house. Ha! Ha!

The DOB notifies the city Finance Department if there is an illegal apartment so the

income can be taxed. A 1997 law says that illegal apartment income should be reported to

the IRS, but they want a social security number, which is not easy to obtain if there even is one. People don’t have to let inspectors into the house and, if an illegal apartment is found in

a building, the tenants don’t have to pay rent.

Scanlon said that the Environmental Control Board is a quality-of-life

tribunal. It adjudicates thousands of violations a year and can impose fines. There

are 425 cases being heard and the fine stays on for eight years and has an interest rate of 9 percent. The

ECB is open to the public.

I would be happy if I could read articles about fines paid and violations removed. This

is how we preserve our quality of life. The Buildings Department complaint number is

227-7000. The Queens Liaison of DOB is Sam Schecter, reachable at 520-2472.

Good News of the Week

This all sounds so efficient and effective.

Bad News of the Week

More and more illegal conversions are creeping into fine one- and two-family homes and the city’s quality of life is being lowered.

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