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For Immediate Release
September 24, 2010

BUILDINGS COMMISSIONER ROBERT LIMANDRI ISSUES 10 TIPS FOR RENTERS ON HOW TO RECOGNIZE SIGNS OF AN ILLEGAL CONVERSION

Follows a DOB Undercover Investigation into Illegal Apartments Advertised on Craigslist

Undercover Operation is a New Part of City Enforcement and Educational Approach to Combat Dangers of Illegal Apartments

Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri today issued 10 tips for renters on how to recognize the signs of an illegal apartment that could endanger the safety of its occupants, neighbors and first responders. These tips follow an undercover investigation by Department investigators who searched advertisements on Craigslist and posed as potential tenants to inspect 62 buildings throughout the City. Illegal conditions were found in 54 of the apartments for rent, including 33 properties where vacate orders were issued because the conditions posed an immediate threat to public safety. As a result, the Department issued 104 violations to property owners who created illegal conditions, including fire safety hazards such as inadequate means of egress and illegal gas, electrical and plumbing work. Monthly rents for these apartments ranged from $750 to $1,200.

“An illegal apartment might save you a few dollars – but it may end up costing you your life,” said Commissioner LiMandri. “Some illegal living spaces are clean, spacious and still have only one exit in case of an emergency, which can easily lead to tragic consequences for you and your family. Property owners who create these types of conditions are deceiving tenants and putting their safety at risk, and that’s why it’s so important for New Yorkers to understand the potential dangers. Every tenant should ask questions, conduct research and confirm whether the advertised living space is legal and if construction work was performed with proper permits.”

As part of this intensified enforcement and educational approach to raise awareness about the dangers of illegal conversions, the Department has issued 10 tips for New Yorkers who are searching for apartments in the City and may encounter these 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 the proper permits from the Department 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.

Following the investigation, the Department’s community liaisons have distributed thousands of educational flyers in the targeted neighborhoods to warn residents about the dangers of living in an illegally converted space. So far, more than 100,000 multi-lingual flyers have been distributed since the Department launched a citywide educational campaign in November 2009 when three people lost their lives in a fire in an illegal cellar apartment in Queens.

Illegal conversions are building units that have been altered to create additional housing without obtaining proper approvals from the Department. For more information on the dangers of illegal conversions, or to verify permit and occupancy information for a unit, visit www.nyc.gov/buildings.

Contact:     Tony Sclafani/Jennifer Gilbert (212) 566-3473

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