Agencies Distribute Information on the Dangers of Illegally-Converted Apartments

DOB handing out flyers in Flushing-Main Street Station, Queens. Image Credit: DOB.

As part of campaign, list of 10 dangers created to help residents before they rent an illegally converted apartment. On December 5, 2018, the Department of Buildings in conjunction with the New York City Fire Department announced a citywide campaign to educate both tenants and property owners on the dangers of illegally-converted apartment. Representatives from both agencies will be distributing flyers throughout the five boroughs over the next three week.

Illegal conversions are living spaces that have been altered to allow additional occupancy without Buildings approval and have potentially unsafe conditions. These units, often found in basements, generally lack necessary exits in the event of an emergency, proper windows, and 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.

The Department of Building’s Community Affairs Unit and FDNY’s Fire Safety Education Unit will distribute flyers in 10 different languages at major transportation hubs in areas across the city where Buildings has identified high numbers of illegal conversions. As part of this effort, the agencies released a list of 10 dangers that New Yorkers should look out for when renting apartments. Flyers distributed in the Living Safely campaign have tips such as the need for at least two exits, working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and the dangers of using an extension cord as a main source of electricity. The flyers are available on Building’s website under Tenant Resources.

“If you know what to look for, it’s easy to identify and avoid dangerous living spaces. The most common types of illegal apartments are basement and attic spaces that lack two exits, in case one exit gets blocked in a fire. That’s why this outreach campaign is so important. We and our partners at FDNY are committed to helping New Yorkers identify safe and legal housing for themselves and their families,” said Buildings Commissioner Rick D. Chandler, PE.

“One of the critical missions of the FDNY is educating New Yorkers how to prevent fires and fire-related injuries and deaths,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. “Our members are proud to once again take part in this important outreach campaign that will warn New Yorkers in neighborhoods across the city about the life-threatening dangers illegal conversions pose to residents and Firefighters.”

FDNY handing out flyers at Grand Street Station, Manhattan. Image Credit: DOB.

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 215,000 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, including suspected illegal conversions.

This year, the agencies expanded their outreach, sending teams to more locations including:

  • Queens: Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue Station, Lefferts Boulevard Station, Flushing-Main Street Station, and Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue Station
  • Brooklyn: 53rd Street Station and Broadway Junction Station
  • Bronx: Gun Hill Road Station and Grand Concourse Station
  • Manhattan: Staten Island Ferry Terminal, Grand Street Station, and 168th Street Station



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