Google Search

TenantNet Forum Archives 1996-2002
Posting and Replies are disabled in all Archives
TenantNet Forum | TenantNet Forum Archives Index

Re: oops bad link: Illegal Conversions

Posted by Anna on July 03, 2000 at 18:36:48:

In Reply to: Re: oops bad link posted by richard on July 03, 2000 at 18:06:40:

Queens President website is 'under construction', this page is still MIA:

Here's the old page:

Office of Claire Shulman, Queens Borough President

Illegal Apartment Conversions:

A Guide to the Law and Enforcement Procedures

Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

February 1998

The illegal addition of a dwelling unit to a home is a serious offense under
the New York City Building Code, and can result in fines up to $15,000 and
up to one year in jail. This guide has been prepared by the Queens Borough
President's Office, with the assistance of the NYC Department of Buildings,
to help educate homeowners and tenants about the laws regulating illegal

What is an illegal conversion?

An illegal conversion is the creation of one or more additional dwelling units
within a home without first receiving the approval of, and permits from, the
NYC Department of Buildings. Such conversions often involve the alteration
or modification of an existing one- family or two-family home by adding an
apartment in the basement or attic. Sometimes several dwelling units are
added to a home to create an illegal rooming house.

Why does the Government care what I do with my private home?

Government regulates many private activities to protect the health and safety
of its residents. Illegal conversions are frequently done in violation of existing
fire and building codes, and constitute a significant danger to tenants and
other individuals living in the buildings. In addition, fires that begin in homes
with illegal apartments can spread to neighboring homes. Illegal conversions
also reduce the quality of life in our neighborhoods by crowding more people
into an area than was originally intended. This unplanned growth causes a
severe strain on municipal services, and frequently results in school
overcrowding, reduced parking, understaffed police stations and increased
sewer and sanitation problems.

Is every apartment added to a home illegal?

No. Depending upon the circumstances, it is sometimes permissible to add an
apartment to a home. First, the building must be in an area which is zoned to
allow additional dwelling units. Second, the property lot and building size must
meet the zoning requirements. Third, you must obtain a building permit from
the NYC Buildings Department to add the new dwelling unit. Finally, the
Certificate of Occupancy must be changed to reflect the current status and
use of the home. If you are considering adding an apartment to your home,
you should first speak with a licensed architect or engineer, who will tell you
whether it is legal to do so based upon the applicable zoning in your area.

What is zoning?

Zoning regulates the use, density and type of structure that can be built on
property within New York City. Every block and lot within the city limits is
zoned for residential, commercial and/or industrial uses. Residential zones
range from R1 to R10; the "R" stands for "residential" and the number for the
permitted density (the higher the number, the higher the density allowed).
Single family homes are zoned R1 and R2, two-family homes are permitted in
R3 zones, small apartment buildings generally are zoned R4 or R5 and large
apartment buildings are zoned R6 and up.

If I already have an additional dwelling unit in my home, how do I know if it
is legal?

If you added the apartment to your home without first getting a permit from the
NYC Buildings Department, then it is illegal, and you must either remove the
apartment or have it legalized. If the apartment already existed when you
bought the home, you should check the Certificate of Occupancy for the
building, or speak with a licensed architect or engineer.

I want to buy a house, and my real estate broker says I can earn extra
income by renting the basement. Is it legal to do so?

Not necessarily. As noted above, whether a basement apartment is legal
depends upon the zoning in the area, whether all necessary building permits
were obtained, and whether the Certificate of Occupancy allows an additional
dwelling unit. Some unscrupulous real estate agents tell prospective home
purchasers that they will be able to afford a larger house with a larger
mortgage by renting the basement to a tenant, even if the zoning prohibits
such a use. If you want to file a complaint against a real estate agent or
broker, you can contact:

New York State Department of State
Division of Licensing Services
270 Broadway
New York, New York 10007
(212) 417-5747

I added a full bathroom to my basement for my own use, but did not get a
building permit first. Is this legal?

No. Even if you do not intend to create a separate "apartment" to be rented to
tenants, you can still be fined for adding a full bathroom or kitchen to your
basement or attic -- or making other major alterations -- without first obtaining
permission from the Department of Buildings.

How do I report an illegal apartment in my neighborhood?

The NYC Department of Buildings is responsible for investigating complaints
of illegal apartments. If you know of an illegal apartment in your area, you can
file a complaint by calling or writing to:

New York City Department of Buildings
Queens Borough Office
126-06 Queens Boulevard
Kew Gardens, NY 11415
(718) 520-3402

In the alternative, you can call your local community board or one of the
elected officials who represents your area.

I know that my neighbor is adding an illegal apartment. How can I stop this
before the apartment is completed?

The NYC Department of Buildings has the power to issue a "stop work order"
to prevent the continuation of construction without a permit. In addition, the
NYC Department of Consumer Affairs has the power to revoke the license of a
home improvement business that takes part in illegal conversions. The
Department of Buildings can be reached at (718) 520-3402, and you can call
the Department of Consumer Affairs at (212) 487-4291.

What happens after a complaint is filed?

Whenever an illegal apartment complaint is received from a private citizen,
community group or elected official, an inspector from the Building
Department's Quality of Life Task Force will inspect the dwelling. If the
inspector finds an illegal apartment or other violation of the Building Code, the
inspector will issue a violation notice to the owner. Sometimes the inspector
cannot gain access to the home, and will leave a notice asking the owner to
arrange for an inspection of the home. If the owner does not respond, the
inspector will return to the location at another time to try to gain access to the

What do I do if I receive a violation notice?

If you have received a notice of violation for maintaining an illegal apartment,
you are required to attend a hearing at the Environmental Control Board
(ECB). The notice of violation will tell you the time, date and location of the
hearing. If you cannot attend the hearing on the specified date, you can
request a new date by calling the ECB Queens office at (718) 595- 4584. ECB
will try to accommodate you and will set a new date, unless the hearing has
already been rescheduled more than once.If you or your representative do
not attend the hearing, a default judgment will be entered
automatically. By defaulting, you will be assessed the maximum
penalty allowed under the law.

A default can be reopened in 30 days, but after 30 days you will need to
provide documented proof to the ECB Queens office justifying your failure to
attend the hearing on the scheduled date. If you continue to ignore ECB
hearing notices and fail to respond within 90 days, the Department of Finance
will collect the maximum penalty.

Do I have to hire an attorney?

Representation by an attorney is not mandatory. However, you may wish to
seek legal advice prior to going to the ECB hearing. You also may contact the
Building Department's Administrative Enforcement Unit (AEU) at (212)
312-8400 beforehand if you have questions about the hearing process.

What are the fines for each violation?

The penalty for an illegal conversion violation ranges from $250 to $2,500. A
second offense at the same location within 18 months can result in fines
between $1,000 and $10,000. If you are found guilty of a third violation within
a single 18-month period, you can be fined between $5,000 and $15,000. In
some cases, jail time can be imposed. In addition, ECB can impose a civil
penalty of up to $100 per day from the date the notice of violation is issued
until the illegal condition is corrected.

How is an illegal condition corrected?

An illegal conversion violation may be corrected in one of two ways:

1) Remove the illegal condition: The altered spaces must be restored
to their prior legal use or layout. This may require the removal of
partitions, plumbing fixtures and entrances. All tenants in the illegal units
must leave, but they have certain rights which must be respected
(discussed below).

2) If possible, legalize the illegal condition: Under certain limited
circumstances, the additional housing unit may be legalized by following
the guidelines below and obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy from the
Department of Buildings. The Certificate of Occupancy is a document
that describes the legal occupancy use of your buildings (for example, a
one-family home, a two-family home or a 10-story apartment building).

When must the illegal condition be corrected?

As noted above, there are significant fines and penalties for illegal
conversions. As a result, if you have an illegal apartment in your home,
you should take steps to correct the illegal condition before you
receive a violation notice. If you eliminate the illegal condition before the
Buildings Department conducts an inspection, you will not receive a violation
notice and will not be charged with any penalties. If the Buildings Department
conducts an inspection and finds a violation of the Building Code, you should
take steps to eliminate the illegal condition immediately, because civil
penalties can be imposed from the date of the violation notice until the date
that the illegal condition is corrected.

How does the violation get dismissed?

Attending the ECB hearing and paying a fine is not enough to get a violation
dismissed. You also must show that the illegal condition has been fixed, by
filing a Certificate of Correction with the Building Department's Administrative
Enforcement Unit (AEU). The form is available from AEU or the borough
office. In order to prove that the condition has been corrected, you
must submit either evidence that the illegal condition has been
eliminated (such as photographs and bills from contractors) or a new
Certificate of Occupancy if you have legalized the unit. This is very
important, because penalties can continue to accrue until you have proved
that the violation has been cured.

How do I legalize an additional dwelling unit in my home?

First you have to determine if your property is zoned for multiple housing units
or apartments. Second, the size of your property must be sufficient under the
zoning rules. For basic zoning questions, you can call the Department of
Buildings' Customer Service Department at (718) 520-3401. The building's
structure is also important. For example, due to fire safety concerns, a wood
frame house cannot be converted to multiple housing units. Other features
that affect building access and egress in case of an emergency -- such as the
location of doors, stairs and windows -- are also important. If the zoning, lot
size and building structure are appropriate, then you must hire a New York
State-licensed registered architect (R.A.) or professional engineer (P.E.) to
prepare design drawings and submit an alteration application to the
Department of Buildings on your behalf. A filing fee must be paid when you
submit the permit application, and the size of the fee depends upon the scope
of the work. There is also a penalty for a legalization -- for a one-family or
two-family home, it is two times the cost of the filing fee.

After the Buildings Department approves the application, you will receive a
work permit to legalize the existing conditions. If plumbing or electrical work is
required, you must hire a NYC-licensed plumber or electrician to verify that
the work meets the standards of the Building Code. After the work is
completed, you can request that the Buildings Department issue a new
Certificate of Occupancy. Buildings Department inspectors will check your
building to make certain that it conforms with the plans submitted by your
architect or engineer. If it does, the Department will issue a new Certificate of
Occupancy, describing the present status and legal use of the building.

If the zoning rules do not permit multiple housing units or apartments,
then the extra housing unit cannot be made legal under any
circumstances. The improper use must be stopped and the home must be
restored to its prior legal layout.

What are the rights of the tenants in an illegal apartment?

Rights of tenants in buildings with illegal units depend upon the number of
legal units in the building.

When a one-family home is converted to two-family home:

Rent: Landlords can commence a non-payment proceeding in Housing Court
against tenants in legal or illegal units, and although individual cases may be
decided differently, as a general rule the tenants most likely will be found
liable for the rent.

Eviction: The landlord first serves a 30-day notice to leave. If tenant does not
leave in 30 days, the landlord can then file a summary eviction proceeding in
Housing Court. It usually takes 1-3 weeks before the case is called before a
judge, who typically gives the tenant 30-60 days to vacate the dwelling. As a
result, the entire process will take from two to four months before the tenant is
required to leave. In the meantime, the tenant is entitled to basic services,
such as adequate heat and hot water. Even after a notice of violation has
been received, the landlord does not have the right to remove bathroom and
cooking fixtures to make the apartment uninhabitable in an effort to force the
tenant out.

When a one-family or two-family home is converted to a building with three
or more units:

Rent: A landlord cannot collect rent from any tenants where a one-family or
two-family dwelling has been converted into a building with at least three
dwelling units (an "illegal 3+"). Thus, neither the tenant in the illegal units nor
the tenant in the legal units must pay rent in such circumstances, and the
landlord cannot bring a non-payment proceeding in Housing Court. If the
landlord has a legal three-family dwelling with valid registration statement on
file and adds an illegal apartment, the landlord can bring a non-payment
proceeding, but only against the tenants in the legal dwelling units.

Eviction: If a landlord has a legal three-family dwelling with a valid
registration statement on file, the landlord can evict the tenants by bringing a
summary holdover proceeding in Housing Court. Most illegal conversions are
in one-family and two-family dwellings, and owners of these "illegal 3+"
dwellings do not have the right to use the Housing Court for eviction
proceedings. The landlord instead must bring an ejectment action in Civil
Court if the taxes assessed on the home are below $25,000. If taxes are over
$25,000, the case must be brought in Supreme Court. The entire eviction
process takes a minimum of six months.

Follow Ups:

Note: Posting is disabled in all archives
Post a Followup

Name    : 
E-Mail  : 
Subject : 
Comments: Optional Link URL: Link Title: Optional Image URL:


TenantNet Home | TenantNet Forum | New York Tenant Information | Contact Us
DHCR Information | DHCR Decisions | Housing Court Decisions | New York Rent Laws |

Subscribe to our Mailing List!
Your Email      Full Name