The city Department of Buildings is not doing enough to enforce the spate of illegal conversions that has plagued Queens since the 1990s, city Comptroller William Thompson said last week.
Issuing an audit of the DOB’s Queens Quality of Life unit, Thompson found inspectors often failed to gain access to buildings where complaints had been filed.
Illegal conversions are homes that have been configured so multiple families can live in them without a proper certificate of occupancy from the city. Often they have poor wiring and other code violations.
“In this time of limited city resources, it is crucial for the DOB to use all tools at its disposal,” Thompson said in a speech in front of Borough Hall July 15. “Failure to do so threatens public safety.”
Thompson’s recommendations included establishing legal authority to fine property owners who deny access, implementing weekend and nighttime inspections and making a greater effort to get warrants to access locked properties.
Borough President Helen Marshall praised Thompson’s efforts and noted her own work to alert the city to illegal conversions when she was in the City Council.
“They need night inspections, they need weekend inspections, because people relax then,” Marshall said. “They must have personnel. Without the inspectors, it doesn’t work.”
Thompson’s audit found that of 8,345 properties that were reported for illegal conversions during the 2008 fiscal year, inspectors could not gain access to 39 percent of them. In 23,410 inspection attempts that year, 67 percent resulted in DOB staff failing to gain access to the properties.
Inspectors require warrants to access property without the owner’s permission, a process that Thompson said is cumbersome and time-consuming. They requested the warrants for less than 1 percent of the properties they could not access during the 2008 fiscal year, he said.
“We might need some legislation from the state to cut that process out,” Marshall said.
Thompson also said the DOB had submitted a written response to him “generally agreeing” with 12 of the 14 recommendations in his report.
“It’s up to them, City Hall and the mayor’s office to follow through on these things,” he said.
DOB officials said some of the report’s recommendations were not practical. The suggestion that the DOB fine property owners is outside the agency’s authority, officials said.
“The authors of this report ignored the facts and recommended procedures that are already in place,” DOB spokeswoman Carly Sullivan said, noting more than 2,200 violations were issued during the 2009 fiscal year. “Illegal conversions are a very serious matter, and DOB inspectors seek access warrants and perform multiple follow-up inspections at sites where access is blocked.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cn
©2009 Community News Group
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