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For Immediate Release
November 12, 2013

BUILDINGS COMMISSIONER LIMANDRI AND FIRE COMMISSIONER CASSANO REMIND NEW YORKERS ABOUT THE DANGERS OF ILLEGAL CONVERSIONS

Departments Will Host 10 Events in All Five Boroughs to Raise Awareness About the Dangers of Illegally Converted Apartments 

More than 10,000 Educational Flyers Distributed in Ongoing "Living Safely" Campaign

Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri and Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano today announced the distribution of educational flyers warning New Yorkers about the dangers of illegally converted apartments. Starting today, the Departments will distribute more than 10,000 flyers to remind residents and property owners of the serious consequences of living in or creating illegal living conditions. Over the next week, the Buildings Department’s Community Affairs Unit and the Fire Department’s Fire Safety Education Unit will distribute flyers in multiple languages at major transportation hubs in all five boroughs. Since 2009, more than 170,000 flyers have been provided to New Yorkers through the Living Safely campaign, which is part of the Department’s aggressive approach to combating illegal conversions.

"The purpose of this campaign is to help New Yorkers protect themselves against dangerous living situations,” said Buildings Commissioner LiMandri. “Illegal apartments often lack the number of required exits and in an emergency this can quickly turn deadly for those who live there, as well as for first responders. That said, it is possible to recognize an illegally converted apartment if you know what to look for. Our goal is to arm New Yorkers with the information they need to choose housing that is safe for themselves and their families."

“Illegal converted apartments create very dangerous conditions, especially in the event of a fire,” said Fire Commissioner Cassano. “The FDNY Fire Safety Education Unit is standing with the Department of Buildings to bring this critical safety message directly to the public in an effort to combat a problem which has taken the lives of New York City residents and FDNY Firefighters.”

The Living Safely awareness campaign was launched after three men lost their lives in a tragic fire in an illegal cellar apartment in Woodside, Queens, on November 7, 2009. As a part of this ongoing effort, Department inspectors and community liaisons have handed out flyers in neighborhoods throughout the City where the most illegal conversion complaints are generated.

In addition, the Buildings Department has issued 10 tips to help New Yorkers avoid illegally converted living situations and/or conditions. The following tips may be indicators that an apartment could be illegally converted:

1) Know the market. Be wary of units that advertise significantly lower price points for comparable apartments in the area.

2) Beware of the words “basement” or “attic.” Advertisements that use these words are often for apartments that typically lack adequate exits.

3) Avoid apartments that have rooms without windows or very small windows. These are often found in illegal cellar or basement apartments. Landlords will sometimes describe the ones with very small windows as “sunny” to entice renters.

4) Beware of the word “flex.” “Flex” implies that the apartment can be converted into a multi-bedroom unit using pressurized walls. The installation and/or construction of a wall without proper permits are illegal.

5) “Utilities included” is a red flag. A landlord may not want utilities under another name connected to the property because those residents would violate the legal occupancy of the building.

6) Avoid apartments with odd layouts. They are often described as “unique” or “interesting” and are oddly situated (i.e. a shower installed in the kitchen).

7) Be cautious when a landlord refuses to disclose the exact address. Landlords advertising illegal apartments may ask to meet a potential renter before exposing the address to possible regulation or penalty.

8) Beware of apartments where you can’t have mail delivered. Landlords advertising illegal apartments will often request that tenants obtain a separate P.O. Box.

9) Beware of no-lease apartments. Be suspicious of a landlord who declines to draw up a lease, requests a month-to-month agreement or requires cash payments.

10) Check for adequate means of egress and look out for locked doors in the unit. A tenant should be able to access all available exits either directly from the unit or a public hallway.

Earlier this year, Department investigators launched an undercover operation to target real estate agents who advertise and show illegal apartments for rent. The Department issued violations to 10 real estate agents who presented illegal apartments to undercover investigators, the first time such violations had been issued. In 2010, the Department first began conducting undercover operations as a way to raise awareness about the issue of illegal conversions and hold property owners accountable for creating illegal living conditions. The Department also has joined with the City’s Fire Department, Housing and Preservation Department and the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement to operate a multi-agency task force designed to identify high-risk illegal conversions and conduct joint-agency inspections.

Illegal conversions are building units that have been altered to create additional housing without obtaining proper approvals from the Department. These units often lack adequate means of egress, proper windows and ventilation and have illegal and unsafe gas, electrical and plumbing systems. The flyers include safety tips such as the need for two means of egress, a working smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector and the dangers of using an extension cord as a main source of electricity. For more information, please visit www.nyc.gov/buildings.

Contact: Kelly Magee/Gloria Chin (212) 393 - 2126
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