For Immediate Release
December 17, 2015

CITY AGENCIES WARN OF DANGERS OF ILLEGAL CONVERSIONS IN FIVE-BOROUGH EDUCATIONAL CAMPAIGN

DOB, FDNY, HPD Raise Awareness About the Dangers of Illegally Converted Living Spaces, with Media Advertising and More Than 10,000 Flyers to Be Distributed Throughout the Five Boroughs

*City Also Issues “Top 10 List” of Warning Signs of Illegal Apartments*


Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler, Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro, and Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been today announced a citywide outreach campaign to warn New Yorkers about the dangers of illegally-converted living spaces. Starting today, the Departments will distribute more than 10,000 flyers reminding residents and property owners of the serious and potentially deadly consequences of illegal living spaces. The flyers will also be offered to the offices of elected officials and Community Boards. In addition, educational advertisements have been placed in local newspapers across the city to help raise awareness. The Departments released a list of 10 tips to help renters spot potentially illegal apartments. A copy of that list follows.

DOB’s Community Affairs Unit, HPD’s Office of Enforcement and Neighborhood Services, and FDNY’s Fire Safety Education Unit will distribute flyers in multiple languages at major transportation hubs in all five boroughs including:

  • 74th Street, Roosevelt Avenue – Queens
  • Broadway Junction, Eastern Parkway – Brooklyn
  • Westchester Square, East Tremont Avenue – Bronx
  • East 125th Street, Lexington Avenue – Manhattan
  • St. George Ferry Terminal – Staten Island

Illegal conversions are living spaces that have been altered to allow additional occupancy without DOB approval or adequate life-safety protections. These units often lack a minimum of two means of egress, proper windows and ventilation, and may have illegal and unsafe gas, electrical and plumbing systems.

"We urge New Yorkers to protect themselves, their families, and their neighbors against dangerous living situations,” said Buildings Commissioner Rick D. Chandler. “Illegal apartments often lack basic safety standards, such as having only one exit – which, if it’s blocked in a fire, can be fatal for occupants as well as first responders. Fortunately, it’s easy to recognize an illegally converted apartment if you know what to look for. The goal of the Living Safely campaign is to provide New Yorkers with the information they need to identify safe and legal housing for themselves and their families."

"Illegal conversions pose life-threatening risks to both residents and Firefighters who respond to fires in these homes," said Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. "Through this critical outreach, FDNY, HPD, and the Department of Buildings are educating New Yorkers about the grave dangers these conversions create and how critical a working smoke alarm and safe, legal egress are to surviving a fire.”

"Illegal conversions violate the New York City Housing Maintenance Code and can be extremely hazardous. We urge New Yorkers to arm themselves with the basic safety information outlined in the Living Safely Awareness Campaign,” said HPD Commissioner Vicki Been. “We also recommend that New York City residents report any concerns about the safety of their homes to the City by calling 311, visiting the website, or using the 311 mobile phone app. When it comes to the health and safety of your families and loved ones, it’s better to be safe than sorry."

“Illegal conversions that occur in this city, often so that landlords can increase profits, are a true danger to New Yorkers. There is no excuse why we have seen people lose their lives and incur serious injuries as a result of shoddy construction and other issues with these substandard units. I’m glad that the DOB is engaging in this awareness campaign, and I look forward to continuing to work with the administration in the months ahead to take further steps to protect New Yorkers against this danger,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings.

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. Since 2009, more than 200,000 flyers have been provided to New Yorkers through the Living Safely campaign.

New Yorkers are encouraged to call 311 to report any non-compliant or unsafe construction conditions. For more information, please visit the Department’s website at www.nyc.gov/buildings

Flyers distributed in the Living Safely campaign have tips such as the need for two means of egress, working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and the dangers of using an extension cord as a main source of electricity.

These flyers are produced in 10 different languages and are also available on DOB’s website under Living Safely Resources.

The Departments issued 10 tips to help New Yorkers avoid illegally converted living situations and/or conditions. The following conditions may be indicators that a living space 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 is 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.


Contact: Alexander Schnell (212) 393-2126
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