Owner of Queens apartment illegally converted two family residence into an SRO and added an attic apartment. On November 12, 2019, a Department of Buildings officer visited a two-family dwelling in Jackson Heights located at 33-17 87th Street, Queens. A resident let the officer into the home. Inside, the officer observed key-locking devices for three rooms on the second floor with hot plates inside each room. The residents of the rooms on the second floor told the officer that they each lived separately and received the codes for the locking devices from the owner of the building. The officer also observed the attic was fully converted into an additional apartment with a full bathroom, kitchen, and two bedrooms. A family occupied the attic level.
The officer issued multiple summonses charging the owner with illegally converting the two-family dwelling into multiple single residence occupancies; adding an additional apartment in the attic; and for failing to provide two paths for egress for the attic and a sprinkler system. The officer charged that the adjustments made to the building were not only against code but also dangerous to the people living inside. Building issued additional summonses based on additional visits to the building on January 4, 2020, November 4th, 2020, and on April 13, 2021.
According to the owner of the building, by November 13, 2019, the day after the first officer’s inspection of the building, the residents had vacated the attic and single-occupancy units. The owner also removed the key-locking devices on the second-floor rooms. The owner submitted photos of the door handles with the key-locking devices removed. The hearing officer rejected the evidence, upheld the summonses and imposed fines for each day the violation was not corrected.
The owner appealed. The owner argued that the evidence was sufficient to demonstrate the termination of the illegal residences. The owner also appealed the hearing officer’s finding that the conversions created a dangerous environment to a significant number of people warranting an aggravated penalty.
On Appeal, the Board found that the owner’s evidence of correction was sufficient to prevent incurred daily penalties for the removal of the locking devices. The Board also determined that the lack of a sprinkler system and of a second egress did not warrant an aggravated penalty for putting a significant number of people in harm’s way. However, the fines for the illegal attic conversion and the additional fines for creating three illegal single room occupancies with key-locking devices on the second floor were upheld. There were also civil penalties for working on an occupied building without appropriate permits. The Appeals Board imposed a penalty totaling $107,000.
DOB v. Cao, Liyu, OATH Appeal No. 2101383 (November 18, 2021).
By: Candace Riggs (Candace is a New York Law School student, Class of 2023.)