The Civic Scene: Better enforcement of city codes needed

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This has been a concern of the civic associations of New York City for decades. It seems that whenever a civic association or the umbrella group of the civics, the Queens Civic Congress, or the predecessors held a meeting about enforcement of the zoning laws or about the Buildings Department, the meetings always have been crowded with concerned homeowners and tenants. It seems to me that at every civic meeting concerning buildings and zoning people are unhappy and complaining.

People buy or rent a house, rent an apartment, or buy a co-op or condo with the expectation that the quality of life will remain the same in their community. When speculators buy a house, or two, and then add illegal conversions, then the quality of life changes a little. If many people add more illegal rooms, then the quality of life changes a lot.

One can easily pick out a house with illegal conversions because there are many cars parked all over the driveway and on the sidewalk, the lawns are unkempt, there are no flowers, the bushes are dead, there are often dog droppings everywhere, there are several garbage cans left out for days, recycling is not observed, trash and circulars are everywhere. These are some of the reasons why civics want the zoning laws enforced by the Building Department.

Kerzner made the point that the civics really don't care whether the Building Department remains as it is or if some other agency, like the Fire Department, takes over inspections, as long as the functions of the Buildings Department are operating smoothly and are taxpayer-friendly. And since the Building Department can cite violations which can lead to fines, the expenses of operating the department can be paid for by the very functions it performs. In fact, revenues can exceed expenses by at least $8 million a year," Kerzner stressed, and in some fiscal years there is even a $30 million surplus.

Kerzner complained that "administrators and City Councils going as far back as John Lindsay, have treated the Buildings Department as a second-class mayoral agency. It is amazing, looking at the past 30 years, that the staff of the Buildings Department has produced as good a product as they have, considering the limited resources they have had to work with."

One problem Kerzner cited was the use of "expediters," whom contractors pay for because there is insufficient staff hired by Buildings. There is lack of funding for enforcement personnel, so summonses often are not issued for violations. I must add that the city has to be commended for raising the fines for violations and adding the fines as tax liens against building, but if there are few inspectors.

Previous deficiencies have led to the new concept of "self-certification" by architects. Like letting the fox guard the chicken house, architects now certify that their work is in compliance with the law. I would like to ask how many architects have been fined for doing a poor or dangerous job?

The substandard salaries paid building inspectors on the average of $40,000 to check on say a $500,000 or $5 million job, leads to the temptation of payoffs. We currently have a number of officials charged with illegal activities.

Kerzner did commend the Giuliani administration for "beginning to address this 30-year downward spiral of the Buildings Department."

We will just have to watch and see what happens!

Good News of the Week

The Queens construction budget calls for $1.7 billion which would enable 39 schools and eight additions to existing buildings to be built by 2009. While this would relieve overcrowding, the problem will continue unless the government gets a control on illegal immigration, which just adds people who aren't generally counted in the census and so are not taken into account when budgeting for schools and other services.

Bad News of the Week

I just read a story about a city firefighter named Denise Chapman. She has Lyme Disease which she claims was caused by fleas and ticks which jumped on her arm from the clothes of a vagrant she was trying to help while on duty three years ago. Neither the Fire Department nor the Workers Compensation Board will compensate her for the cost of treatment. I thought that city workers were entitled to health coverage - I wish that some official would look into this case, especially since the city manages to give huge pensions to some officials who claim age-related illnesses as work-related illnesses..

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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