Combating illegal home conversions

Council Member Jumaane D. Williams stood with Council Member Vincent Gentile (left), Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (right) and housing advocates in front of an illegally converted apartment and church, which burnt down earlier this year, to announce new legislation to combat illegal home conversions and the grave dangers they cause.
NYC Council / Ernest Skinner

Brooklyn Democratic Council Members Jumaane D. Williams and Vincent Gentile have tabled a bill in the City Council to combat illegal home conversions.

Williams, deputy leader and chair of the Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee, stood with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Gentile, deputy leader and chair of the Council’s Oversight and Investigations Committee, and others to announce legislation sponsored by the council members at the request of the borough president.

Williams said often times illegal home conversions do not have fire escapes and other emergency exits, which was the case in a recent two-alarm fire that occurred in an illegally converted unit above Eglise Baptiste Clarte Celeste Church on 1434 Flatbush Ave. in East Flatbush.

The press conference was held in front of the building’s remains, where one of the victims said he was still displaced from the fire and was living on the street.

According to reports, the fire claimed the life of one community member, injured five and displaced 16.

After discussing the legislation to combat such fires, elected officials and activists encouraged community members to “change their clocks and change their smoke detector batteries,” in an effort to protect tenants by passing out batteries provided by the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) for daylight savings time.

“Illegal home conversions have been putting New Yorkers in harm’s way for decades, especially in my district, where we have seen two major fires in converted apartments this past year alone,” Williams said. “Our bill aims to comprehensively end this housing issue once and for all by introducing a number of penalties on bad-actor landlords and gives building inspectors more resources to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.”

“This bill is not aimed at homeowners with basement apartments, but at those who egregiously slice and dice units with no regard to the safety of their tenants,” he added. “I would like to thank the Borough President and Council Member Gentile for working with me to combat illegal conversions, and look forward to getting this legislation through the Council quickly.”

Adams said “this legislation is the most significant, proactive effort to date to tackle the illegal conversion crisis, where the safety of Brooklynites in dangerous ‘cubicle living’ lies in the balance.

“For the first time, we would properly address the displacement problem that occurs when enforcement on these units occurs, helping to prevent homelessness for innocent families,” he said.

Gentile said illegal conversions are “dangerous, especially to those most vulnerable, such as immigrants, many of whom are unaware that the places they call home are illegal because they are unsafe.

“Illegally converted homes are often places of serious violations of New York City’s fire code, overcrowding, faulty wiring, and structural unsoundness caused by illegal excavation and overbearing of weight,” he said. “It’s time we take a stand once and for all against the unscrupulous landlords, architects, and engineers who profit off of the harm they do to our constituents, to our neighborhoods, and to our housing market.”

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