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A northeast Queens lawmaker has made a list of derelict or vacant properties around the area that he wants to clean up, including a Flushing home owned by Bank of America that was being used as an illegal apartment. But there is only so much he can do to stop the problems.
After civic organizations, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) helped coerce a negligent property owner in Whitestone to clean up a site along Francis Lewis Boulevard, Avella’s office began compiling a list of other abandoned properties that need to be addressed.
He created a task force in conjunction with civics in the area and came up with an initial roster of 21 properties that are either uninhabited or in various degrees of disrepair.
“We are going to look at all of these sites,” he said. “Do we need to give the city more legislative power, or are they just not doing anything?”
A TimesLedger Newspapers analysis of the properties found that some have been shut down for dangerous conditions or housing illegal apartments.
A property owned by Bank of America, at 43-19 164th St. in Flushing, was issued an order to vacate by the city Department of Buildings after inspectors found the two-family dwelling was being used as a single-room occupancy facility that housed three or four families, according to DOB documents.
Three single-room occupancy rooms with locks on their doors were found by inspectors, and in a separate complaint an illegal apartment was also found in the basement. On Feb. 12, Bank of America was set to appear in a city Environmental Control Board Court, which addresses hazardous building conditions separate from the state Unified Court System, but the lender did not show up and currently owes a total of $65,000 in outstanding violations, according to the DOB database.
Another property on the list is owned by Chuk Sau Tsnag. It is a construction site that currently has a stop-work order placed on it that has generated 33 complaints since 2007. Tsnag racked up $20,000 in fines from the city for violations like not securing the site with a proper fence.
Halloran, too, is looking out for derelict properties like the vacant lot at 195-20 Northern Blvd., which also has a stop-work order placed on it and $12,500 in fines associated with it.
Avella said unattended property can bring health risks like vermin and mosquitoes or bring down property values of neighboring real estate.
“These locations shouldn’t go on for decades, and the city should have the power to say, ‘If you can’t develop the property, we’ll issue sanitation fines or health fines, we’re going to put it up for a lien sale,’” Avella said. “How many times do we have to go onto a piece of property before we begin to realize there is a problematic owner?”
But some of the lots on the list are in various stages of development or are completely legal yet uninhabited homes, which the city has no power to address.
An abandoned gas station, at 79-05 Little Neck Pkwy. in Glen Oaks, is slowly being developed into a 7-11, according to DOB documents.
Neighbors have submitted complaints to the DOB about a vacant house at 120-15 9th Ave. in College Point since 2001, but each time the DOB inspectors go out the house is secured and thus legal.
Avella’s crusade against these properties pits a neighborhoods’ rights to cleanliness against a homeowners’ rights to be a slob.
Richard Golden, a lawyer in Forest Hills familiar with property law and foreclosures, said the city has always been limited on the steps it can take, unless a property becomes a public nuisance, a health hazard or the owner fails to pay taxes.
“For the homeowner, it is real estate law. He has a deed to the property that gives him ownership,” Golden said. “Just because it is dilapidated, there is not much the city can do.”
For Avella, he has not decided exactly how far a property can sink before it falls on the community to correct the problem.
“I haven’t come to that point. Where do you draw the line?” Avella said. “I think we have to figure out the philosophy of where that line is and when something becomes a longtime nuisance.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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