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Fire in illegally converted Rego Park home injures man

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Residents have filed 14 complaints with the city Buildings Department about the home at...

By James DeWeese and Cynthia Koons

It took a life-threatening fire for buildings inspectors to finally gain access to a Rego Park home that has been the subject of neighborhood suspicion for years.

Residents have filed 14 complaints with the city Buildings Department about the home at 62-45 Boelsen Crescent since 1999 because they believed the two-family house was illegally converted into five apartments.

After a fire Saturday morning sent a 50-year-old man to the hospital in serious condition, inspectors finally got access to the home and confirmed that the house was in fact illegally divided into five units, according to the Department of Buildings. Area zoning laws prohibit any more than two units on this property, Buildings Department spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said.

Authorities would not release the name of the injured man, who was listed in serious condition in the burn unit of New York Weill Cornell Medical Center as of Saturday.

Another woman was treated and released at the scene, Fire Department spokesman Mike Loughran said. The fire marshal said the blaze began as a result of careless smoking, he added.

In the months leading up to the fire, the Buildings Department received two complaints, one on March 15 and one as recently as April 2, Givner said. These two were the latest in a series of 14 total complaints registered against the building’s owners, she said.

On three separate occasions between 2003 and 2004, inspectors attempted to gain access to the property to follow up on the complaints but were turned away by the building’s occupants.

Inspectors are not authorized to enter a building without permission from the residents or landlord.

“It’s the same thing as a cop coming to the door without a warrant,” Givner said.

After the fire, the city agency issued two violations to the building’s owner, one for having done work on the house without a permit and another for having altered the occupancy beyond the legally approved limit.

The Buildings Department had two spellings for the owner’s name — Yozef Moladzahnou and Josef Moladzahnov — neither of whom had listed phone numbers in New York. According to the department’s documents, another person by the name of Mack Michelle was previously issued Environmental Control Board violations that were dismissed.

The phone number the Buildings Department had on record for Moladzahnou had been disconnected as of Tuesday.

The second summons could mean hefty fines until the owner restores the property to its approved, two-family state. The second-floor occupants were not allowed to move back into the building as of Tuesday, according to the city agency.

Kathleen Histon, district manager of Community Board 6, said she was fully aware that the community was concerned about the number of apartments in that residence.

“I feel that the Building Department doesn’t have the teeth,” she said. “Its bark is worse than its bite.”

Histon said in the 27 years that she has worked for CB 6, little has changed in how the city deals with illegally converted homes.

“‘Til the Building Department can be guaranteed access, whether through law or court proceedings, nothing of any substance will really occur,” she said. “They can go once, they can go twice, they can leave a formal notification for the owner but if (the owner) doesn’t respond, they still can’t get access.”

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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