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Re: My Scary Staircase You are in an Illegal 3 family apartment read this

Posted by to on July 31, 2001 at 19:33:41:

In Reply to: My Scary Staircase posted by Minty on July 31, 2001 at 18:09:36:

Office of Claire Shulman, Queens Borough President

Illegal Apartment Conversions:

A Guide to the Law and Enforcement Procedures

Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

February 1998

The illegal addition of a dwelling unit to a home is a serious offense under the New York City
Building Code, and can result in fines up to $15,000 and up to one year in jail. This guide has
been prepared by the Queens Borough President's Office, with the assistance of the NYC
Department of Buildings, to help educate homeowners and tenants about the laws regulating
illegal conversions.

What is an illegal conversion?

An illegal conversion is the creation of one or more additional dwelling units within a home
without first receiving the approval of, and permits from, the NYC Department of Buildings.
Such conversions often involve the alteration or modification of an existing one- family or
two-family home by adding an apartment in the basement or attic. Sometimes several dwelling
units are added to a home to create an illegal rooming house.

Why does the Government care what I do with my private home?

Government regulates many private activities to protect the health and safety of its residents.
Illegal conversions are frequently done in violation of existing fire and building codes, and
constitute a significant danger to tenants and other individuals living in the buildings. In
addition, fires that begin in homes with illegal apartments can spread to neighboring homes.
Illegal conversions also reduce the quality of life in our neighborhoods by crowding more
people into an area than was originally intended. This unplanned growth causes a severe strain
on municipal services, and frequently results in school overcrowding, reduced parking,
understaffed police stations and increased sewer and sanitation problems.

Is every apartment added to a home illegal?

No. Depending upon the circumstances, it is sometimes permissible to add an apartment to a
home. First, the building must be in an area which is zoned to allow additional dwelling units.
Second, the property lot and building size must meet the zoning requirements. Third, you must
obtain a building permit from the NYC Buildings Department to add the new dwelling unit.
Finally, the Certificate of Occupancy must be changed to reflect the current status and use of
the home. If you are considering adding an apartment to your home, you should first speak
with a licensed architect or engineer, who will tell you whether it is legal to do so based upon
the applicable zoning in your area.

What is zoning?

Zoning regulates the use, density and type of structure that can be built on property within
New York City. Every block and lot within the city limits is zoned for residential, commercial
and/or industrial uses. Residential zones range from R1 to R10; the "R" stands for "residential"
and the number for the permitted density (the higher the number, the higher the density
allowed). Single family homes are zoned R1 and R2, two-family homes are permitted in R3
zones, small apartment buildings generally are zoned R4 or R5 and large apartment buildings are
zoned R6 and up.

If I already have an additional dwelling unit in my home, how do I know if it is legal?

If you added the apartment to your home without first getting a permit from the NYC Buildings
Department, then it is illegal, and you must either remove the apartment or have it legalized.
If the apartment already existed when you bought the home, you should check the Certificate
of Occupancy for the building, or speak with a licensed architect or engineer.

I want to buy a house, and my real estate broker says I can earn extra income by renting the
basement. Is it legal to do so?

Not necessarily. As noted above, whether a basement apartment is legal depends upon the
zoning in the area, whether all necessary building permits were obtained, and whether the
Certificate of Occupancy allows an additional dwelling unit. Some unscrupulous real estate
agents tell prospective home purchasers that they will be able to afford a larger house with a
larger mortgage by renting the basement to a tenant, even if the zoning prohibits such a use. If
you want to file a complaint against a real estate agent or broker, you can contact:

New York State Department of State
Division of Licensing Services
270 Broadway
New York, New York 10007
(212) 417-5747

I added a full bathroom to my basement for my own use, but did not get a building permit first.
Is this legal?

No. Even if you do not intend to create a separate "apartment" to be rented to tenants, you can
still be fined for adding a full bathroom or kitchen to your basement or attic -- or making other
major alterations -- without first obtaining permission from the Department of Buildings.

How do I report an illegal apartment in my neighborhood?

The NYC Department of Buildings is responsible for investigating complaints of illegal
apartments. If you know of an illegal apartment in your area, you can file a complaint by calling
or writing to:

New York City Department of Buildings
Queens Borough Office
126-06 Queens Boulevard
Kew Gardens, NY 11415
(718) 520-3402

In the alternative, you can call your local community board or one of the elected officials who
represents your area.

I know that my neighbor is adding an illegal apartment. How can I stop this before the apartment
is completed?

The NYC Department of Buildings has the power to issue a "stop work order" to prevent the
continuation of construction without a permit. In addition, the NYC Department of Consumer
Affairs has the power to revoke the license of a home improvement business that takes part in
illegal conversions. The Department of Buildings can be reached at (718) 520-3402, and you can
call the Department of Consumer Affairs at (212) 487-4291.

What happens after a complaint is filed?

Whenever an illegal apartment complaint is received from a private citizen, community group
or elected official, an inspector from the Building Department's Quality of Life Task Force will
inspect the dwelling. If the inspector finds an illegal apartment or other violation of the
Building Code, the inspector will issue a violation notice to the owner. Sometimes the
inspector cannot gain access to the home, and will leave a notice asking the owner to arrange
for an inspection of the home. If the owner does not respond, the inspector will return to the
location at another time to try to gain access to the home.

What do I do if I receive a violation notice?

If you have received a notice of violation for maintaining an illegal apartment, you are
required to attend a hearing at the Environmental Control Board (ECB). The notice of violation
will tell you the time, date and location of the hearing. If you cannot attend the hearing on the
specified date, you can request a new date by calling the ECB Queens office at (718) 595- 4584.
ECB will try to accommodate you and will set a new date, unless the hearing has already been
rescheduled more than once.If you or your representative do not attend the hearing, a
default judgment will be entered automatically. By defaulting, you will be assessed the
maximum penalty allowed under the law.

A default can be reopened in 30 days, but after 30 days you will need to provide documented
proof to the ECB Queens office justifying your failure to attend the hearing on the scheduled
date. If you continue to ignore ECB hearing notices and fail to respond within 90 days, the
Department of Finance will collect the maximum penalty.

Do I have to hire an attorney?

Representation by an attorney is not mandatory. However, you may wish to seek legal advice
prior to going to the ECB hearing. You also may contact the Building Department's
Administrative Enforcement Unit (AEU) at (212) 312-8400 beforehand if you have questions
about the hearing process.

What are the fines for each violation?

The penalty for an illegal conversion violation ranges from $250 to $2,500. A second offense at
the same location within 18 months can result in fines between $1,000 and $10,000. If you are
found guilty of a third violation within a single 18-month period, you can be fined between
$5,000 and $15,000. In some cases, jail time can be imposed. In addition, ECB can impose a
civil penalty of up to $100 per day from the date the notice of violation is issued until the
illegal condition is corrected.

How is an illegal condition corrected?

An illegal conversion violation may be corrected in one of two ways:

1) Remove the illegal condition: The altered spaces must be restored to their prior
legal use or layout. This may require the removal of partitions, plumbing fixtures and
entrances. All tenants in the illegal units must leave, but they have certain rights which
must be respected (discussed below).

2) If possible, legalize the illegal condition: Under certain limited circumstances, the
additional housing unit may be legalized by following the guidelines below and obtaining
a Certificate of Occupancy from the Department of Buildings. The Certificate of
Occupancy is a document that describes the legal occupancy use of your buildings (for
example, a one-family home, a two-family home or a 10-story apartment building).

When must the illegal condition be corrected?

As noted above, there are significant fines and penalties for illegal conversions. As a result, if
you have an illegal apartment in your home, you should take steps to correct the illegal
condition before you receive a violation notice. If you eliminate the illegal condition before
the Buildings Department conducts an inspection, you will not receive a violation notice and
will not be charged with any penalties. If the Buildings Department conducts an inspection and
finds a violation of the Building Code, you should take steps to eliminate the illegal condition
immediately, because civil penalties can be imposed from the date of the violation notice until
the date that the illegal condition is corrected.

How does the violation get dismissed?

Attending the ECB hearing and paying a fine is not enough to get a violation dismissed. You also
must show that the illegal condition has been fixed, by filing a Certificate of Correction with
the Building Department's Administrative Enforcement Unit (AEU). The form is available from
AEU or the borough office. In order to prove that the condition has been corrected, you
must submit either evidence that the illegal condition has been eliminated (such as
photographs and bills from contractors) or a new Certificate of Occupancy if you have
legalized the unit. This is very important, because penalties can continue to accrue until you
have proved that the violation has been cured.

How do I legalize an additional dwelling unit in my home?

First you have to determine if your property is zoned for multiple housing units or apartments.
Second, the size of your property must be sufficient under the zoning rules. For basic zoning
questions, you can call the Department of Buildings' Customer Service Department at (718)
520-3401. The building's structure is also important. For example, due to fire safety concerns, a
wood frame house cannot be converted to multiple housing units. Other features that affect
building access and egress in case of an emergency -- such as the location of doors, stairs and
windows -- are also important. If the zoning, lot size and building structure are appropriate,
then you must hire a New York State-licensed registered architect (R.A.) or professional
engineer (P.E.) to prepare design drawings and submit an alteration application to the
Department of Buildings on your behalf. A filing fee must be paid when you submit the permit
application, and the size of the fee depends upon the scope of the work. There is also a
penalty for a legalization -- for a one-family or two-family home, it is two times the cost of
the filing fee.

After the Buildings Department approves the application, you will receive a work permit to
legalize the existing conditions. If plumbing or electrical work is required, you must hire a
NYC-licensed plumber or electrician to verify that the work meets the standards of the Building
Code. After the work is completed, you can request that the Buildings Department issue a new
Certificate of Occupancy. Buildings Department inspectors will check your building to make
certain that it conforms with the plans submitted by your architect or engineer. If it does, the
Department will issue a new Certificate of Occupancy, describing the present status and legal
use of the building.

If the zoning rules do not permit multiple housing units or apartments, then the extra
housing unit cannot be made legal under any circumstances. The improper use must be
stopped and the home must be restored to its prior legal layout.

What are the rights o the tenants in an illegal apartment?

Rights of tenants in buildings with illegal units depend upon the number of legal units in the

When a one-family home is converted to two-family home:

Rent: Landlords can commence a non-payment proceeding in Housing Court against tenants in
legal or illegal units, and although individual cases may be decided differently, as a general rule
the tenants most likely will be found liable for the rent.

Eviction: The landlord first serves a 30-day notice to leave. If tenant does not leave in 30 days,
the landlord can then file a summary eviction proceeding in Housing Court. It usually takes 1-3
weeks before the case is called before a judge, who typically gives the tenant 30-60 days to
vacate the dwelling. As a result, the entire process will take from two to four months before
the tenant is required to leave. In the meantime, the tenant is entitled to basic services, such
as adequate heat and hot water. Even after a notice of violation has been received, the
landlord does not have the right to remove bathroom and cooking fixtures to make the
apartment uninhabitable in an effort to force the tenant out.

When a one-family or two-family home is converted to a building with three or more units:

Rent: A landlord cannot collect rent from any tenants where a one-family or two-family
dwelling has been converted into a building with at least three dwelling units (an "illegal 3+").
Thus, neither the tenant in the illegal units nor the tenant in the legal units must pay rent in
such circumstances, and the landlord cannot bring a non-payment proceeding in Housing Court.
If the landlord has a legal three-family dwelling with valid registration statement on file and
adds an illegal apartment, the landlord can bring a non-payment proceeding, but only against
the tenants in the legal dwelling units.

Eviction: If a landlord has a legal three-family dwelling with a valid registration statement on file, the landlord can evict the
tenants by bringing a summary holdover proceeding in Housing Court. Most illegal conversions are in one-family and
two-family dwellings, and owners of these "illegal 3+" dwellings do not have the right to use the Housing Court for eviction
proceedings. The landlord instead must bring an ejectment action in Civil Court if the taxes assessed on the home are
below $25,000. If taxes are over $25,000, the case must be brought in Supreme Court. The entire eviction process takes
a minimum of six months.


: (three unit residential building, Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

: A while back I posted about my deteriorating staircase. This is a ramp-like set of stairs leading to the 3rd floor, in the hallway (they are not in the apartment). I am not an architect, so I don't know what kind of support they have underneath.

: Well, they haven't improved with age. Whenever I am carrying something heavy, they buckle, and I fear they will one day separate from the wall. I do not plan to renew my lease in a few months, but I do own both a stove and a sofa bad couch, both of which are very heavy. I would be sick if an accident happened...for instance, if a mover was carting the stove down each step with a handtruck, and the force caused the whole thing to collapse.

: I have called the management company several times about this, Their response is of course, "what's wrong with them?" When I explain, they reply, "but are they broken?" (So much for prevention.) I "offered" to have a city inspector visit, and this made the management guy nervous. He said HE would look at it. Well, this didn't even happen.

: I filed a complaint with the DOB, through the Central Complaint hotline, because I was told I had to file a complaint to get an inspector. Then, I made an appointment for a borough inspector, which is to happen next week. In the meantime, I suspect the Central Complaint people may have contacted my LL, since I received a message from my roommate that "two hostile Hasidim were looking for you today (Please no flames about this - as far as I'm concerned, my ex-Christian fundamentalist LL was just as hostile. It's a Williamsburg thing.)."

: Great.

: I'm really trying to do this by the book. I just want to know if I'm in any danger. Am I going about this in the right way?

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