FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 7, 2011
MAYOR BLOOMBERG AND SPEAKER QUINN ANNOUNCE NEW APPROACH TO TARGET MOST DANGEROUS ILLEGALLY CONVERTED APARTMENTS
Task Force Developed New Method Using Risk Analysis Model to Identify Properties Most at Risk for Fire
In Pilot Test, 40 Percent of Targeted Properties Required Vacate Orders, Compared to Typical Rate of Three Percent
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith, Chief Policy Advisor John Feinblatt, Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano and Buildings Commissioner Robert D. LiMandri today announced the results of a new targeted approach to identify high-risk illegal conversions, quickly conduct joint-agency inspections, and take action to address dangerous conditions. A multi-agency task force, chaired by Chief Policy Advisor Feinblatt, developed a risk assessment model that will be applied to illegal conversion complaint records weekly. The model generates a targeted list of illegal conversions at high risk for a fire, and the locations are inspected within 48 hours by a joint inspection team, which vastly improves the chances for access. The Mayor announced the new enforcement program in the Blue Room of City Hall and also was joined by Council Members Elizabeth S. Crowley, Oliver Koppell and Peter F. Vallone Jr. as well as Department of Housing Preservation and Development First Deputy Commissioner Doug Apple.
"Illegally converted apartments pose a serious danger to New Yorkers," said Mayor 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. This new approach, which allows us to use data to increase efficiency and effectiveness, is the latest innovation in our efforts to tackle this problem."
The risk analysis model was developed by using historical data from past fires in illegally converted apartments. The model evaluates all illegal conversion and single-room occupancy complaints based on the following four metrics, which have historically correlated with dangerous fires:
High-risk complaints are inspected within 48 hours of being identified by the joint inspection team, consisting of Fire Department personnel and Buildings inspectors. Joint inspections are designed to increase the rate of successful access. In the past, Buildings inspectors have gained access roughly half the time when investigating complaints about illegal conversions.
If the joint inspection teams cannot gain access to the property, access warrants will be pursued if sufficient evidence is available. If, after gaining access, the joint inspection team determines that an order to vacate the property may be necessary, it will consult with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to consider whether there is a way to cure the problem or limit the vacate order to only a portion of the building. If a vacate order is necessary, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will ensure that relocation services are handled effectively and efficiently.
"Our new inspection task force will prioritize inspections based on metrics developed to identify high-risk illegal conversions. The initial results are encouraging and the first step in addressing this very serious problem in our City," said Council Speaker Quinn. "The problem of illegal conversions must be dealt with at all levels: from receiving illegal conversion complaints, to investigating the complaints and seeking access; from enforcing access warrants to preventing illegal conversions in the first place. I want to thank Mayor Bloomberg and my Council colleagues for working together to address this gravely serious matter."
"As recent tragedies have made all too clear, illegally converted spaces often put the lives of our most vulnerable residents at risk," said Deputy Mayor Goldsmith. "Our joint inspection efforts are pursuing the correction of dangerous conditions and, when necessary, verifying that unsafe properties remain unoccupied. We must continue to work across agency lines to ensure that we are making the best use of our resources as we try to solve this urgent problem."
"We conducted a comprehensive analysis of City data to identify the factors that put a property at the highest risk for a dangerous illegal conversion fire," said Chief Policy Advisor Feinblatt. "Armed with this analysis, we can now target resources towards the most dangerous conditions. We will continue to build on our initial successes to help identify the most troubled locations and do all we can to shut them down quickly."
"Too often people think the Fire Department only puts out fires," said Fire Commissioner Cassano. "But throughout the year, we put a tremendous effort into preventing fires through our inspection and education work, and the reduction of serious fires and fire deaths in recent years is evidence that our work is having an impact. And this new joint effort will help us save even more lives, because if a fire starts, there's no more dangerous place to be than in an illegally converted apartment or dwelling."
"We are developing new ways to combat the dangers of illegal conversions, and 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 Commissioner LiMandri. "Illegal dwellings can endanger the lives of tenants, neighbors and first responders, and new enforcement and education initiatives will raise awareness about the consequences of creating such dangerous conditions. 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. New Yorkers must recognize that an illegal apartment might save them a few dollars, but they could end up paying with their life."
"Spaces that are illegally converted can be difficult to identify and pose serious safety risks to the people living in them, to others in the building, and to our first responders. Ensuring the safety of New York's tenants by making sure landlords comply with egress and space requirements is a critical part of HPD's mission and one we share with our sister agencies," said Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Mathew M. Wambua. "By pooling our resources, this task force will strengthen our efforts to quickly indentify and take action to enforce the law with respect to high-risk illegally converted dwellings. At the same time, we are able to put a premium on streamlining the City's ability to share information across agencies. I thank Mayor Bloomberg for his leadership on this issue, and look forward to continuing our work with City Hall, the FDNY, DOB, and Speaker Quinn in helping to make this City a safer place to live for all New Yorkers."
"Identifying and inspecting high risk illegal conversions within 48 hours is an important step forward in addressing this critical problem and I want to thank Speaker Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg for moving this proposal forward," said Council Member Crowley, chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee Chair.
"It is critical that the Buildings Department and the Fire Department can gain access to inspect buildings that maybe illegally and dangerously constructed," said Council Member Koppell. "Where serious concern exists, recourse to the courts must be promptly available."
"I applaud the Mayor and Speaker for making this issue a priority," said Council Member Vallone. "These actions will hopefully put an end to these death traps which have already taken too many lives."
The task force first tested its new operations in a pilot program last week. Applying the risk analysis model to 225 illegal conversion or single-room occupancy complaints made in the past two weeks generated a list of 16 apartments that were likely to be high-risk illegal conversions. Personnel from the Buildings and Fire Departments gained access to all 16 apartments and issued six vacate orders and cited four additional properties for violations. Vacating nearly 40 percent of the properties is a dramatic increase from historical rates: three percent of properties with these types of complaints are typically issued vacate orders.
In order to determine whether joint inspections would consistently generate higher access rates, the joint team also visited 28 properties that had previously been issued vacate orders. They gained access to 26 of those apartments. Sixteen of those were in compliance with the vacate order, five were issued violations, and five were re-issued vacate orders. At one apartment, the owner fled the scene. Upon revisiting, the inspectors issued that owner a criminal court summons for a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of $10,000 plus up to six months in jail.
The new targeted illegal conversion enforcements represent the latest step the Administration is taking to continue to innovate and find ways to implement new approaches to crackdown on dangerous living conditions where landlords flout safety regulations.
Since 2010, investigators from the Department of Buildings have been conducting undercover investigations of apartments posted for rent on Craigslist that have tell-tale signs of being an illegal conversion. Investigators pose as tenants and gain access to apartments and they have frequently found illegal conditions, such as a lack of a secondary means of egress and illegal gas, electrical and plumbing work. In the last three months, 40 apartments were inspected under this program, and investigators found illegal conditions in 32 locations of those locations. Vacate orders were issued to 22 apartments where there was an immediate threat to public safety, and a total of 64 violations were issued to property owners. Monthly rents for these apartments ranged from $750 to 1,200.
Since a fatal fire in an illegal Queens dwelling in November 2009, the Department of Buildings has distributed more than 150,000 flyers in multiple languages to warn New Yorkers about the dangers of an illegally converted apartment. The Department also has issued a simple guide for New Yorkers, available at nyc.gov, with 10 tips on how to recognize an illegally converted apartment and avoid renting one.
Last month, Mayor Bloomberg announced the results of a new crackdown on dangerous illegal hotels. Starting on May 1st, when a new State law proposed by the Bloomberg Administration and sponsored by State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried went into effect, the City's Office of Special Enforcement took action to close down 15 residential locations that were illegally converted into unsafe hotels.
Recognizing that illegal conditions can result from inadequate housing options, Mayor Bloomberg has asked Deputy Mayor Goldsmith, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs, and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel to lead a cross-agency initiative that will illuminate where existing housing regulations must be strengthened and updated. The initiative will result in recommendations for three new housing models that each respond to a unique need and challenge: legal home conversions, shared housing, and micro-units. These recommendations will include program model design; consumer, market and neighborhood analysis; and, the specific regulatory, legal and policy changes necessary to launch.
Stu Loeser/Julie Wood (212) 788-2958
Jamie McShane (Speaker Quinn) (212) 788-7116
Tony Sclafani/Jen Gilbert (Buildings)
Frank Gribbon (Fire)
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