Assembly Passes Bill To Protect Tenants From Illegal Home Conversions

Photo: Carly Miller

Soon, there may be a law that would alert tenants if they’re about to rent an illegally converted apartment — before they sign the lease.

Yesterday, the NY State Assembly passed a bill authored by southern Brooklyn Assemblymember Pamela Harris, that would require landlords to provide tenants with valid certificates of occupancy. (The state legislative session ended last night).

“By providing valid certificates of occupancy, tenants can rest assured before signing a lease or rental agreement that the housing is safe and up-to-code,” read a statement from Harris’ office.

Illegal home conversion (or illegally subdividing up homes, often without following safety regulations) is a serious problem in Brooklyn. In 2014 alone, the Department of Buildings (DOB) received more than 100,000 housing-related complaints, with more than 26,000 of them related to illegal home conversions, and 1,100 related to illegal hotels, according to city data crunched by the Brooklyn Paper.

The results of these illegal conversions have been deadly. In 2014, a fire in an illegal unit above a Flatbush church killed an individual and injured 16 others, destroying the building. Also in 2014, the landlord of an illegally split Bath Beach home pled guilty to negligent homicide after a fire killed five Guatemalan immigrants and severely injured a baby girl — in part because firefighters could not easily break through the maze of subdivided apartments.

And last year, 31 residents — with 13 children — were vacated from an illegally converted two-family home in Dyker Heights, after it was discovered they were living in hazardous conditions.

And the problem persists. Just two days ago, authorities busted two buildings with illegal, unsafe conversions that were being rented out on Airbnb in Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, reported the Daily. According to the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, the owners had “created life-threatening housing conditions for their short-term renters.”

After many town halls and public meetings packed with angry Brooklynites, City Council unanimously passed a bill last month to enforce fines of landlords who illegally converted their buildings. The bill, Int 1218, requires building owners to pay a $15,000 violation per three or more units above legally allowed amount. If unpaid, the fine would be subject to a lien sale on the property.

Harris’ proposed bill, on the other hand, requires owners to show a valid certificate of occupancy to tenants, before tenants sign the lease.

“We can’t allow landlords to continue taking advantage of unsuspecting tenants,” Harris said. “These illegal conversions are an effort by unscrupulous property owners to make money at the expense of residents’ safety – it must stop now.”

The proposed bill will now be delivered to Governor Cuomo, where he would have the option to sign or veto. You can track the status here.

For more information on illegal housing conversions, or to complain about a violation, click here

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Zainab Iqbal

Zainab is a staff reporter at Bklyner who sometimes writes poetry in her free time ||


  1. “We can’t allow landlords to continue taking advantage of unsuspecting tenants,” Harris said. “These illegal conversions are an effort by unscrupulous property owners to make money at the expense of residents’ safety – it must stop now.”

    This is a pretty ironic comment to make. The majority of the people that are renting “illegal conversions” are here in this country illegally themselves. Do you really think they are going to care if you have a certificate??? Or are going to call the authorities to report such a violation???

    The BS lip service is what must stop now. When a mayor, city and state go against Federal Law and become a “sanctuary city”… the real issues will never end. Get rid of the illegal immigrants in the city and the illegal home conversions will work themselves out. Everything is supply and demand.

    Stop trying to blame it on something else. We all know who is living in these illegal dwellings. ILLEGALS!
    These same people are in sweatshops, brothels & human trafficking all over Bensonhurst. You really think any of these people care about illegal housing?! HAHAHA *shakes head at stupidity of “elected” officials*

  2. To America 162, while it is probably true that predominantly illegals comprise the residency of these landlords who rent out rooms in houses without having any legal permissabilityto do so, there is also a high number of citizens , both naturalized and regular citizens who cannot afford the outrageous rents. Indeed such a bill further squeezes the residency shortage and constricts the supply for such demand As you know any tight squeeze further pushes up the price of supply, That is the reason for the increasing homeless population and people more reliant on goverrnment subsistence. It is balderdash to say that tennants will be protected from illegl home conversions. When these tennants do not have a roof over their head, they are the ones who suffer and are left unprotected. The only protection provided by this bill is to guarantee a short squeeze on residency and drive the prices of residency further skyward.

  3. A certificate? Really? People are not stupid, they know basement apartments are illegal, but rent is 30%-50% cheaper. A legal 2 BED 1 BATH averages around $1,600-$1,800 in South Brooklyn. The same basement dwelling averages between $800-$1000. Immigrant families that can only say “AIIYYA JACKIE!” won’t land the awesome $15/hr jobs at starbucks, receptionist, dunkin d, mickey d (because even nowadays require an associate degree -_-). Only jobs are under the books, low pay, dangerous and unstable: restaurant jobs, sweatshops, independent contractors type of deal. Immigrant families don’t give a dime that white folks hate them, because their children are depending on them to survive the week with a roof over their head. They won’t even do section 8 or other assistance because what is the point in qualifying to live in Bed-Stuy. Old white folks need to forget about their senior assistance and take one for the team. Old white folks should advocate that their local Govt to invest 70% of their annual budget every year for the next 20 years into places like Bed-Stuy and Harlem to make it better. More infrastructure, more jailhouses, at least two cops in every corner block, double the current patrols cars, more sanitation trucks, and even more jailhouses in the area so misdemeanors don’t get a jail free card when they run out of room. When an area is safe, people instinctively move there. I can assure that white folks advocating for this plan will dramatically see all the dirty immigrants gone from their block after 20 years.

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