What Is An Illegal Conversion?
An illegal conversion is when a home, traditionally a one or two-family, is converted to a multi-family dwelling or Single Room Occupancy (SRO). While a typical home usually has two or three bedrooms, illegally converted homes may have as many as 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a small kitchen per floor. More people reside there than what is deemed safe. In many cases, the work is not performed with the proper permits or with building plans that would pass inspection by the Department of Buildings – because the work itself is illegal!
Why is this illegal?
This type of housing is illegal because it violates the zoning regulations for some areas. In other circumstances, the house itself was not constructed for the current use and cannot safely accommodate all the people living in the residence. Illegal conversions create living conditions different from what is permissible under current building codes, resulting in residences that are unsafe for occupants, neighbors, and responding emergency personnel. Who does this affect?
Illegal conversions affect everyone in the community, not just the occupants of the residence. When a building is illegally converted, it creates a human safety issue, diminishes the quality of life for community residents, and decreases the effectiveness of city services.
A Human Safety issue
Tenants and firefighters have died in illegal multi-dwelling house fires. Unexpected walls, barred-up windows, and locked interior doors can endanger firefighters and other personnel whorespond to an emergency and are confronted by a maze of rooms with no exit. These structures can trap tenants inside their homes during an emergency as well.
Construction on homes without proper permits can be hazardous for attached homes and the residents of those homes. Unapproved cellar excavations, usually to create more illegal living space, can undermine the foundation of a building and put all of its residents, and the attached building’s residents at risk.
A Quality of Life issue
Crime, overcrowding and sanitation become major challenges for a neighborhood’s residents. Police may have a more difficult time obtaining the proper warrants to search illegally converted homes that may be dealing in drugs, firearms, or prostitution. Because there are multiple residents living in multiple rooms, it becomes much more difficult to identify and arrest the individual who is responsible for these criminal activities and what SRO they reside in.
A City Services issue
A rapid increase in population within a geographic area that is only zoned for one or two-family homes can overwhelm city services such as fire, police, hospitals, sanitation services, schools, and utilities such as water and electricity.