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The residents, some of whom also operate legal businesses in portions of their residences, contended that the city Department of Buildings, Housing Authority and Fire Department have worked in tandem to investigate false claims that homes have been illegally converted to make room for additional living space. Those living on 105th Street said they had no knowledge about who is making the charges.
"They (city agencies) have been here every single day," said 105th Street resident and native Trinidadian Katie Acton. "I don't know why and what for."
She added: "What should I do, how many times should I let them in?"
Acton said as recently as Monday evening, she and other members of Ozone Park's Trinidadian community have received regular visits from the city, which said it has received complaints on a range of issues from illegal conversions in cellars to business signs on residential property being too large. Most of the inspections have occurred at homes near Liberty Avenue, Acton said.
Meanwhile, she said, non-immigrant residents have been left alone.
Borough President Helen Marshall's spokesman, Dan Andrews, said a similar pattern of complaints filed against immigrant residents occurred several years ago. At that time, the alleged housing violations were proven false and an unscrupulous realtor was found to have masterminded the scheme in the hopes of encouraging people to sell their homes.
"It seems that the complaints are unfounded, so it is hard to say what's going on," Andrews said of the current allegations along 105th Street.
Ilyse Fink, a spokeswoman for the city Buildings Department, said last week there had been complaints lodged against residents on 105th Street, but she could not say who filed them because the origins of such claims are not tracked.
Some residents have complained that members of Engine Co. 285 arrived in fire trucks to inspect their homes in addition to regular visits by the city Department of Buildings and Housing Authority inspectors.
Fink said the only time a fire truck would be called to the scene of a home would be to address fire-related or other emergency concerns.
As for the inspections performed by the Department of Buildings, Housing Authority and Fire Department, Fink said "they are not a tandem thing." She could not comment on whether the complaints being investigated by the Buildings Department were racially motivated.
The city investigates claims against tenants on a complaint-driven basis, meaning someone wanting to target a specific group or street could do so without having to prove whether their allegations are true.
It is the abuse of this process that home and business owners along 105th Street said is the basis for their being harassed.
One of them, a business owner on 105th Street who wished to remain anonymous, said in a phone interview Tuesday that she uses her basement only for storage purposes. She said the Fire Department's Engine Co. 285 visited her home three weeks ago, which was followed one week later by a visit from the Buildings Department.
"I am so fed up I don't know what to do," said the woman, who arrived in New York from Trinidad eight years ago. "This is so unfair. My business is legal, I have paid my taxes, I have an accountant and everything I am doing is very legal."
An FDNY spokesman, Mike Loughran, said the Fire and Buildings departments both work to monitor potentially hazardous living situations. He said Engine Co. 285 was likely called to the 105th Street homes because a complaint was directly lodged with the firehouse rather than with the Buildings Department.
"It is more or less a cooperative effort," Loughran said of the Fire Department's relationship with the Buildings Department. "When we receive a complaint, it is our duty to inspect it."
Another Buildings Department spokeswoman, Jennifer Givner, said there is no process to discern false from true complaints. She said the Buildings Department's responsibility is to investigate all claims of alleged wrongdoings, which means the residents of 105th Street could be victims of a scheme similar to the one Andrews described.
But Acton and 105th Street residents, who said they have been living with daily visits from city authorities for months, want a resolution to the inspections that they described as vague and bordering on harassment.
"If they want to come, they have to have a legitimate reason," Acton said. "This is making us fight among ourselves."
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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