The city Department of Buildings is compiling documents and records to hand over to the Queens district attorney’s office in hopes of building a criminal case against two city construction companies that are suspected of reporting more than 1,000 Queens homeowners in recent months for building code violations to generate more business, City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said.
As early as September, the companies have used the 311 call system to lodge hundreds of anonymous, unfounded complaints alleging that entire blocks of homes across the borough have been renting out their basements or performing work without a permit, according to Halloran.
After making the complaints, the companies blanket the neighborhoods with letters advertising their services, which include improving homes in order to avoid DOB fines, the councilman said.
Logs of 311 phone calls obtained by the DOB indicate that at least two-thirds of such complaints made in the past several months originated with either Ticket Busters Inc. of Flushing or Airitan Management Inc. of Brooklyn, said Halloran.
Representatives of both companies denied making the 311 complaints.
“We don’t report people, that’s not our job,” said Ronnie Tan, an auditor at Airitan, citing “company privacy” when asked how it determines where to send letters.
The DOB did not respond to numerous e-mails and phone calls requesting comment, although in December a spokesman said the agency was investigating the complaints.
“Alert your councilman if you get a letter like this so we can turn it over to the DA because they should be prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law companies that are attempting to basically extort money from citizens,” Halloran said.
The suspected scam was first reported last summer in northeast Queens neighborhoods like Whitestone, which Halloran said saw 540 DOB complaints in just one month, but it has since spread to Woodside, southern Queens and in the past two weeks Murray Hill, scam victims said.
The Dwhaj family of South Ozone Park, who requested that their first names and address be withheld, said their holidays were ruined Dec. 28, when a DOB inspector rang their doorbell. He said the city had received a tip that the Dwahjs were illegally renting their cellar.
“So innocently — we don’t have a tenant down there, we’re using it for our own purposes — we let him in,” one of the Dwhajs said.
The inspector did not find a tenant, but recorded other gripes against their dwelling, and the Dwhajs were hit with two violations, each carrying a fine of more than $2,000: work without a permit for installing a small bathroom with a shower and altering a residence to allow more than the legally approved number of tenants.
The inspector came Dec. 28 and a letter arrived Dec. 31 from Ticket Busters, followed two days later by one from Airitan Management.
The Dwhajs have since spent $1,200 to begin to fix the issues and are working to resolve them with the DOB, but the Dwhaj spokeswoman said her family never should have been targeted in the first place.
“Every day we’re coming home with letters coming from companies and notices from the Buildings Department. It’s harassment,” Dwhaj said in December.
Halloran and former Councilman Tony Avella say the scam wastes city time and money and is a costly nuisance for residents.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.
©2010 Community News Group
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