Bensonhurst Fire Brings Awareness to Illegally Converted Homes

News 12 - February 18, 2020

The FDNY says a massive fire in a two-family home in Bensonhurst was illegally converted.

The incident, State Sen. Andrew Gounardes said, brings to light how dangerous illegal housing can be.

“When you have five, 30, if not more people living in a house, it’s literally a tinder box,” said Gounardes. “We’ve been screaming from the mountaintops for years to get the city to pay attention to this problem.”

Fire investigators say that the fire started by careless discarding of smoking materials inside 1948 85th St., spreading to 1950 85th St. The Department of Buildings told News 12 that the home was illegally converted and a full vacate order was posted up on the door of the building.

Goundardes says more needs to be done to prevent illegal conversions. He said that there are fines that can be issued but he’s also proposing legislation that would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to knowingly or intentionally illegally convert their home without the appropriate certificate of occupancy.

The problem, he says, is getting this enforced.

“We need the enforcement,” Goundardes said. “The city is not coming out to do the enforcement that we need them to do.”

But, he added, it is complicated to enforce these laws because officials would need a warrant to get into someone’s house if they did not receive permission to enter it.

“Show a judge, and say look there’s multiple gas lines, there's multiple antennas, two dozen students enrolled in local schools,” Goundardes said. “These should all be indicia of multiple families living in what should be a two story home.”