Increase penalties for landlords by illegal apartments: City Council to vote bill to increase fines for making unauthorized divisions for single-family homes
Illegal divisions of apartments in New York City have been a problem for decades, which puts the lives of homeowners who use this practice to increase their income and of renters seeking more economic income, most of whom are Hispanic immigrants .
A Mexican family, including a 12-year-old boy, was killed in a fire in the Bronx in 2011 after being caught in a lack of emergency exits as a result of the illegal modification of the three-story building where they lived.
These altered apartments have also been deadly for members of the Fire Department (FDNY). In January 2005 two firefighters died after jumping through a window when responding to a fire in an illegally modified building.
And precisely with the intention of avoiding such tragedies, a bill will be discussed next month at the City Council that aims to increase penalties for illegal divisions in the apartments, according to Vincent Gentile, the project’s main sponsor.
The council said that the legislation has as a reason to create more pressure on the landlords who make these divisions as a way to have more economic gains.
“The bad actors are willing to put people in dangerous conditions to make money,” Gentile told El Diario. “Striking those bad actors with significant bonds to create these dangerous conditions, we hope that discourages them to make these divisions in the first place,” he emphasized.
While the minimum fine for all illegal apartments is now $ 1,000 and the maximum is $ 25,000, the law proposes to increase those amounts specifically for apartments that have 3 or more units illegally.
In such cases, the owner would face a fine of $ 15,000 for each additional unit that is not legally authorized. The current fine for each unit is $ 2,4000.
The law would also make this type of conversions subject to immediate evacuation orders and makes if the landlord does not pay the civil penalty, the building is eligible for embargo sale.’
There are already heavy penalties:
The Gentile bill has 20 sponsors and he expects it to be passed without problem. However, during a City Council Housing Committee hearing last week, a representative of the Department of Buildings (DOB) stated in his testimony that the increase in bail will not necessarily translate into more careful landlords.
“The existing penalties are very significant,” said Alexandra Fisher, DOB Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs. The official recalled that in 2014 was implemented a fine of $ 1,000 per day for not making changes, although acknowledged that has not resulted in improvements. “It is likely that a penalty of $ 15,000 per unit will not result in the correction of illegal conditions or an increase in payments, only in an increase in debt to the City,” he said.
The DOE said it inspects more than 18,000 possibly illegal units each year and also launched a campaign to educate tenants about the dangers of living in apartments that have been tampered with by their landlords.
Tips for tenants:
Know the market. Beware of units that advertise significantly lower prices for comparable apartments in the area.
Be careful with the words “basement” or “attic”. The ads that use these words are often apartments that usually lack adequate outlets.
Avoid apartments that have rooms without windows or very small windows. These are often found in the basement. The owners sometimes describe the apartments with very small windows as “sunny” to attract the tenants.
Be careful with the word “flex”, which implies that the apartment can be converted into a multi-room unit using pressurized walls. The installation and / or construction of a wall without proper permits is illegal.
“Services included” is a warning sign. An owner may not want utilities under another name related to the property because residents would violate the legal occupation of the building.
Avoid apartments with strange designs. They are often described as “unique” or “interesting.”
Be cautious when a landlord refuses to reveal the exact address. Landlords who advertise illegal apartments may request to meet with a potential tenant before exposing the address to possible regulation or sanction.
Be careful with the apartments where you can not receive the mail. Landlords who advertise illegal apartments often ask tenants to get a separate mailbox.
Beware of non-rented apartments. Be suspicious of an owner who refuses to make a lease, requests a month-to-month agreement, or requires cash payments.
Check for proper outlet means and pay attention to the closed doors on the unit. A tenant must be able to access all available exits either directly from the unit or a public hallway.