Owner fined $398,550 for alterations

The corner building at 136-02 35th Avenue, Queens. Credit: Google Maps

Owner maintained unlawful apartments in the garage, cellar and upper floors of Queens three-story building. In March 2019, the Department of Buildings received a complaint about people sleeping in the cellar of 136-02 35th Avenue in Queens. Buildings’ inspectors obtained access to the three-story apartment building and observed illegal apartments, a cellar did not match plans filed in 1997, and a garage that had been converted illegally into an apartment. Buildings charged the owner with multiple violations and posted a vacate order on the building.

At the OATH hearing Lisa Ke appeared with a translator representing her parents, the owners of the premises. Ke argued that the cellar had not been altered since the initial construction of the house and that the plans filed with Buildings were related to another property on the block. Ke presented evidence that the former residents had vacated the garage before Buildings’ inspectors had arrived and had just left some things behind. Ke claimed that what appeared to be separate dwelling units on the 2nd and 3rd floors were only families seeking privacy within their units from each other. Lastly Ke claimed that the tenant in the cellar had vacated by April 8th  after issuance of the vacate order.

OATH Hearing Officer S. Archer rejected Ke’s arguments, found that the 2nd and 3rd-floor units were unlawful single-family units, and that the cellar was not vacant when the vacate order was issued. The hearing officer upheld the charges and imposed the maximum amount of fines per day for each violation.

Ke appealed, arguing that the summons was invalid since it named both her parents when her father was no longer alive. Ke argued that the Board should grant a new hearing as she had no representation in the first hearing, did she know of her right to counsel, and did not understand the magnitude of the potential penalties. Ke also claimed that the evidence showed that the cellar had been timely vacated. Buildings responded that it erred in naming Ke’s father, but the summons was correct as it named “Owner of 136-02 35 Avenue” and included Ke’s mother.

The Appeals Board reviewed the tape of the hearing and found that Ke had received a fair hearing.  The Board accepted Ke’s assertions that the cellar was empty by April 8th as shown by photographic evidence, and stated the hearing officer misinterpreted the complaint record. The Board further found that per day penalties for § 28-210.1 violations were not applicable because the cellar occupants had vacated. The Board eliminated penalties associated with the reversed charges and imposed a revised total penalty of $398,550.

DOB v. Owner of 136-02 35 Avenue, OATH Appeals No. 2000014 (March 5, 2020).

By: Kelly Barrett (Kelly is a New York Law School student, Class of 2022.)


One thought on “Owner fined $398,550 for alterations

  1. The DOB is not doing a good job of upholding zoning regulations. Why too many A1 family homes used as 2 or more, including converted garages. When reported they are overlooked or the complaint changed! This brings bad conditions to the area and not fair to tax paying surrounding neighbors who want to live in a A1 neighborhood.

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