For Immediate Release
October 7, 2019
Contact: dobcommunications@buildings.nyc.gov, (212) 393-2126


CITY AGENCIES LAUNCH CAMPAIGN TO WARN NEW YORKERS ABOUT DANGEROUS ILLEGAL APARTMENTS

DOB And FDNY Outreach Campaign Raises Awareness About the Dangers of Illegally-Converted Living Spaces on the Lower East Side Following August Investigation

New York, NY – In conjunction with National Fire Prevention Week, Buildings Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca and Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro today began a week-long Living Safely community outreach campaign to warn residents in the Lower East Side of Manhattan about the dangers of illegally-converted living spaces, such as basement apartments, cellar apartments and single room occupancy (SRO) units following the discovery of multiple illegal units this summer. Representatives from both agencies will be canvasing the Lower East Side and distributing thousands of flyers reminding both tenants and property owners of the deadly consequences of illegal residential conversions.

In August 2019, city inspectors found that several condo owners on Henry Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan had split their units into illegally constructed “half-floors”, leaving tenants living in cramped SRO units with ceiling heights as low as four and a half feet. These units lacked proper egress, windows, ventilation and fire safety systems, and in an emergency, there would have been no way for these tenants to escape. The only safety feature inspectors found in the units was bubble wrap taped to the ceilings for when tenants bumped their heads in the dangerously short apartments. As a result, the Department vacated the dangerous living spaces and issued violations to the condo owners responsible for the illegal conditions.

“The Lower East Side has long been a historic hub for new immigrant communities coming to our city, and the tenants living there deserve safe and legal housing for themselves and their families. Every New Yorker deserves a safe place to live, which is why we’re committed to rooting out dangerous firetraps wherever we find them and issuing strong enforcement actions against landlords who put their tenants lives at risk. Spotting and reporting an illegal conversion before moving in could end up saving your life – that’s why these community education campaigns with our partners at FDNY are so important,” said Buildings Commissioner La Rocca.

“Illegal conversions pose life-threatening risks to both residents and our members who respond to fires in these buildings," said Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. "Through this critical outreach, FDNY 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.”

“As the representative of Lower Manhattan, I am very familiar with bad landlords preying on our immigrant communities,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. ”Over the summer, it was revealed that a landlord was cramming tenants into apartments so small you couldn't even stand up in them--that is unacceptable. I am proud to join the Department of the Buildings and FDNY on this effort to improve outreach and education on this issue.”

"I want to thank DOB and the FDNY for launching this important awareness campaign around illegally-converted living spaces. As we work to address our city's affordability crisis, it's important that we also ensure our buildings are not being converted into dangerous and unsafe “half-floors” and other types of illegal conversions. No tenant should be living in a home without proper egress, windows, ventilation and fire safety systems, and I look forward to this campaign reaching New Yorkers in my District," said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera.

Illegal conversions are living spaces that have been altered to allow additional occupancy without DOB approval and have potentially unsafe conditions. These units often lack necessary exits in the event of an emergency, proper windows, inadequate ventilation, and may have illegal and unsafe gas, electrical, and plumbing systems. These illegal spaces not only put residents in danger, but neighbors and first responders as well.

DOB’s Community Engagement Unit and FDNY’s Fire Safety Education Unit will distribute flyers with information on how to spot illegal conversions, as well as fire safety palm cards, in multiple languages at major transportation hubs and public parks around the Lower East Side. DOB and FDNY have conducted similar Living Safely awareness campaigns in neighborhoods across the city for years. The Living Safely awareness campaign was first 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 long-running community outreach effort, city inspectors and community liaisons have handed out flyers in neighborhoods in all five boroughs where the most illegal-conversion complaints are made by the public. Since 2009, hundreds of thousands of flyers have been provided to New Yorkers through the Living Safely campaign.

Among the locations that FDNY and DOB staff will be canvasing this week will be:

  • East Broadway Subway Station - F Line

  • Delancey Street/Essex Street Subway Station – F/M/J/Z Lines

  • New York Public Library Seward Park Branch

  • Captain Jacob Joseph Playground

New Yorkers are encouraged to call 311 to report any non-compliant or unsafe construction conditions, including suspected illegal conversions. For more information, please visit the Department’s website to find our outreach flyers available in 10 languages, helpful tips on how to spot illegal apartments, and information about the Department’s Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA).

The illegal conversion awareness flyers that DOB and FDNY will be handing out this week in Spanish, Chinese, and Russian.
(The illegal conversion awareness flyers that DOB and FDNY will be handing out this week in Spanish, Chinese, and Russian.)

 

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