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DOB inspects few iffy homes in Qns

TimesLedger Newspapers

A number of buildings in Queens that may be dangerous or pose quality-of-life problems for their surrounding communities have gone unchecked by the city Department of Buildings, according to a recent audit of the agency.

The audit found DOB failed to inspect 80 percent of Queens properties that were suspected of illegal conversions in 2011, more than double the number of unsuccessful inspection attempts three years before.

It also said DOB only received warrants to gain access to properties its inspectors were barred entry to 2 percent of the time in 2011, although that was an improvement from 2008.

“The Buildings Department is just dysfunctional and incapable of improving itself,” said city Comptroller John Liu, whose office conducted the audit. “Its inability to perform basic tasks like these bode poorly not just for the department, but for residents and neighborhoods, too.”

Illegal conversions, where houses are expanded or modified without city permission in order to create additional living spaces or apartments, can cause dangerous conditions and decrease the quality of life in a neighborhood.

For example, illegal conversions are often done in violation of existing fire codes, and fires that start in the illicit apartments can easily jump to neighboring homes, according to the borough president’s office.

In addition, unlawfully increasing the number of people who live in a house can cause grief for neighbors in the form of school overcrowding, fewer parking spots and sanitation problems.

The audit’s findings were a follow-up to a previous audit from the city comptroller of the DOB conducted in 2009, which had also found that the DOB’s response to illegal conversion complaints was inadequate.

In the most recent audit, Liu’s office found that the DOB’s Queens Quality of Life Unit, which is responsible for making inspections in the borough when there are complaints about illegal conversions, had failed to fully implement a number of recommendations made in the previous audit.

Out of 14 recommendations that were made by Liu’s office, only two were fully implemented and another six partially implemented, the audit found.

Four recommendations were not put into place, including that the DOB try to get legal permission to fine property owners who refuse inspectors access or that it send “no access” notices to owners via certified mail.

A spokesman for the comptroller’s office said the audits are intended to draw attention and transparency to the issues, but they cannot enforce the recommendations made to the DOB.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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