Illegal Apartments in NYC: How Many More Must Die?

“What’s even worse is that this building was had complaints about illegally converted apartments way back in 2006. Unfortunately, according to records, the New York City Department of Buildings representatives couldn’t gain access to the building to verify the illegal renovations, and properly cite the owner (s).”

Illegal Apartments In NYC

On page 28 of  today’s New York Daily News, the article, “Blaze In Illegal Apartment Kills Woman, 82.” The article details how the body of Ho Yukkuen was found inside a bedroom, in an illegal apartment in a Sunset Park residence.
What’s tragic is firemen couldn’t reach her in time because of window bars.

What’s even worse is that this building had complaints about illegally converted apartments way back in 2006. Unfortunately, according to records, the New York City Department of Buildings representatives couldn’t gain access to the building to verify the illegal renovations, and properly cite the owner (s).

So an 82-year-old woman loses her life, maybe screaming for help in vain while trying to escape her prison.

Why Was An 82-Year-Old Woman Living In An Illegal Basement Apartment?

Let’s talk truth. The lack of truly affordable housing is literally killing members of our citizenry. I find it hard to believe an 82-year-old woman couldn’t be placed in some form of affordable senior housing facility. At worse, why couldn’t she find placement in a regular, legal apartment?

Greed. That’s right. Greed.

We are erecting condominiums which many hard-working New Yorkers cannot afford to buy, and not requiring at least 40% of the apartments be affordable for people with annual incomes between $35,000 to $60,000.

Homeowners in communities like Bedford-Stuyvesant, who purchased their homes for $10,000, $50,000, and $300,000, who fought for years for better schools, libraries, and sanitation and police services, only to cut and run when investors, both foreign and domestic, show up at their door, promising them one million dollars and up for their now-beautifully restored brownstones. And many of these former owners rue the day they sold.

But what happens to the elderly tenants in these buildings, many of whom lived with the former owners like family for decades, and don’t have leases, or protections through rent control and rent stabilization laws? Where do they wind up? Do they sleep outdoors in the winter when the bitter cold is a constant danger? Or, are they fortunate enough to have family who’ll take them in, or blessed to be accepted into a senior living facility?

I only know this: The overwhelming majority of those elected to the New York City Council, and other government positions ran on platforms promoting the creation of affordable housing. Let’s hope they remember their promises to the people of this city, and not any corporate masters who helped them get elected. I know that I and others won’t forget the promises they made to address the real housing needs of all New Yorkers.

Finally, I hope this new crop of politicians/public servants finally pass legislative giving the Department of Buildings the real power it needs to gain access to any building in New York City to discover and address illegal apartment conversions and other matters of safety for its tenants and the surrounding community.

With this type of power, perhaps Ho Yukkuen would be alive today.

Eustace L. Greaves Jr., LUTCF is a business owner who since 1995 has provided his clients with integrated insurance and income tax strategies and solutions. He is also a firm believer in a New York City building inspection program which will root out the bad players, thus keeping all of us safe. You can reach him by telephone at 718-783-2722 and by email at Eustace@insuremeeg.com .