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Avella, boro civic push for enforcing deed restrictions

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Avella, working with the Queens Civic Congress, has drafted a bill that would give the city's Department of Buildings the ability to enforce deed restrictions, which are permanent restrictions placed on a property and follow the land, regardless of owner."We're looking at all aspects of the problem of overdevelopment," Avella said. "It's another tool, one more piece of the puzzle."Deed restrictions are separate from zoning codes, which are legal rules governing the size, shape and use of buildings and are administered by the city. Currently, it falls upon homeowners, neighbors and local civic associations to enforce deed restrictions through private and often costly lawsuits in civil courts.A spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings said "we're taking the bill under consideration" and declined to comment further.While the legislation is still in its infancy, Avella was scheduled to hold a public hearing Wednesday before the City Council's Housing and Buildings Committee at City Hall to gauge community interest in the bill. "This is the beginning of what we hope is very serious consideration of the deed restrictions," said Pat Dolan, vice president of the Queens Civic Congress. "This is not only for Queens, but for every older established neighborhood in the city."Avella said the impetus for the bill comes from the rise of so-called McMansions, homes criticized for being outsized and out-of-context with surrounding neighborhoods, as residential communities in the borough continue to grow and some developers no longer exercise what the councilman called "good sense.""A lot of neighborhoods were built with a certain style, and developers at the time had the good sense on their own," Avella said. The enforcement of deed restrictions would entail homeowners who draft these covenants to file them with the city's Department of Buildings. The city agency would then check the deed restrictions as part of the permit process for developers.In addition, the city would enforce deed restrictions that only pertain to buildings rather than any limitations on tenants such as the covenants that once prevented Jewish people or minorities from moving into certain neighborhoods."It would only be on deed restrictions that affect housing stock. The city can't accept anything that affects public policy," Avella said.And even with the city's enforcement of deed restrictions, Avella pointed out that homeowners would still be able to take cases to civil court if a landlord or developer defies the Department of Buildings, thus protecting the sacred American right to litigate."Homeowners could still sue," Avella said. "Nothing the city will do will take away the right to sue."Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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