City officials hope they’ve found a way to curtail the problem of potentially deadly illegally converted apartments. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new program in a press conference on Tuesday where a consolidated task force of city agencies can work together to pinpoint dangerous illegal conversions and send inspectors to the sites within 48 hours.
The risk analysis model evaluates illegal conversion complaints based on factors that have been historically correlated to fires. Buildings constructed before 1938; buildings located in areas that have experienced high risks of dangerous fires; if the property is in foreclosure; and if the city Department of Buildings (DOB) has received previous complaints about the property are the biggest risk factors.
“Illegally converted apartments pose a serious danger to New Yorkers,” said Bloomberg. “These landlords are creating hazardous conditions that put lives at risk. Even as fire safety in our city has improved, and fire fatalities have declined to record lows illegal conversions have continued to pose a challenge to public safety.”
A joint inspection team led by FDNY and the DOB will be sent to high-risk sites within 48 hours. The city hopes the joint inspection will improve inspector’s access to buildings. Currently, when DOB inspectors examine illegal conversion complaints, they are allowed access about half of the time. If the joint inspection team fails, the city is prepared to pursue warrants to gain access to properties if there is sufficient evidence.
“This new model is an innovative way to identify buildings at risk and hold property owners accountable when they sacrifice public safety for a profit,” said Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri. “Gaining access to illegal apartments can be difficult, but by joining forces with the Fire Department and other agencies, we hope to send a clear message that these conditions will not be tolerated.”
The new program was tested last week and 16 high-risk apartments were picked from 225 illegal conversion complaints. The joint inspection team gained access to all 16 apartments and issued six vacate orders. The new team also visited 28 properties that had previously been given vacate orders. They gained access to 26 of the apartments and found five apartments had violated the order.
Gaining access to buildings has been the city’s biggest problem when cracking down on illegal conversions. In April, a Bronx fire killed three people; the building had received numerous complaints about illegal conversions, but DOB inspectors could never enter the building.