Housing in Queens
The Queens Borough President is committed to the twin
goals of creating new affordable housing and to preserving and
enhancing the existing housing stock.
Fighting Illegal Conversions:
A Comprehensive Guide for Communities
Published by the
Office of the Queens Borough President, Helen M. Marshall
Dear Concerned Citizen,
The problem of illegal apartment conversions is a persistent
and pervasive one that places many of our residents in
danger and puts tremendous strains on community resources.
Part of the reason for the proliferation of illegal apartments
is that many homeowners and their tenants do not know what
constitutes an illegal dwelling or how to seek remedies.
This is why my office has published “Fighting Illegal
Conversions: A Comprehensive Guide for Communities.” It
is my hope that this guide will help everyone comply with
the laws so that we can avoid lifethreatening and quality-of-life
problems caused by illegal apartments.
My office is also taking a proactive approach to deal
with illegal apartment conversions and to protect our homes
and our families. We support the clarification and strengthening
of the city’s Building Code; call for enhanced enforcement
of the law, including giving the Department of Buildings
more resources and inspectors and work with the court system
to help the members of the judiciary rectify this problem;
seek to coordinate enforcement efforts among various city
and state agencies, and support legislation that would
require buyers and sellers in real estate transactions
to certify the residential status of any residence at closing
and to affirm that it complies with the zoning laws. We
have also asked electrical, gas and cable utilities to
report excess services at particular
We will continue to seek other solutions to the vexing
problem of illegal apartment conversions. Meanwhile, I
urge you all to read this guide, and if you have any questions
or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact my office
HELEN M. MARSHALL
Queens Borough President
ANSWERS TO COMMONLY
An illegal apartment conversion is a serious offense under the New York
City Building Code, and can result in fines up to $15,000 and up to one
year in jail. This Guide has been prepared by the Office of the Queens
Borough President, with the assistance of the NYC Department of Buildings,
to help educate homeowners and tenants about the laws regulating illegal
WHAT IS AN ILLEGAL
An illegal conversion is the creation of one or more additional dwelling
units within a home without first receiving the approval of, and permits
from, the NYC Department of Buildings. Such conversions often involve the
alteration or modification of an existing one- family or two-family home
by adding an apartment in the basement or attic. Sometimes several dwelling
units are added to a home to create an illegal rooming house.
WHY DOES THE GOVERNMENT
CARE WHAT I DO WITH MY PRIVATE HOME?
Government regulates all aspects of business and industry to preserve the
health and safety of its citizens. Illegal conversions are frequently done
in violation of existing fire and building codes, and constitute a significant
danger to tenants and other individuals living in the buildings. In addition,
fires that begin in homes with illegal apartments can easily spread to
Illegal conversions also reduce the quality of life in
our neighborhoods by crowding more people into an area
than was originally intended. This unplanned growth causes
a severe strain on municipal services, and frequently results
in school overcrowding, reduced parking, understaffed police
stations and increased sewer and sanitation problems.
IS EVERY APARTMENT
ADDED TO A HOME ILLEGAL?
No. Depending upon the circumstances, it is sometimes permissible to
add an apartment to a home.
- First, the building must be in an area which is zoned
to allow additional dwelling units.
- Second, the property lot and building size must meet
the zoning requirements.
- Third, you must obtain a building permit from the NYC
Department of Buildings to add the new dwelling unit.
If you are considering adding an apartment to your home,
you should first speak with a licensed architect or engineer,
who will tell you if it is legal to do so based upon the
applicable zoning in your area.
WHAT IS ZONING?
Zoning is a tool that regulates the use, density and type of structure
that can be built on property within New York City. Every block and lot
within the city limits is zoned for residential, commercial and/or industrial
Residential zones range from R1 to R10; the “R” stands
for “residential” and the number for the density
(the higher the number, the higher the density allowed).
Only single family detached homes are permitted in R1 and
R2 districts. Other housing types are permitted in R3 -
R10 zoned districts. Go to www.nyc.gov/buildings to check
the zoning of your property.
IF I ALREADY HAVE
AN ADDITIONAL DWELLING UNIT IN MY HOME, HOW DO I KNOW
IF IT IS LEGAL?
If you added the apartment to your home without first getting a permit
from the NYC Buildings Department, it is illegal, and you must either remove
the apartment or seek to have it legalized. If the apartment already existed
when you bought the home, you should check the Certificate of Occupancy
for the building, or speak with a licensed architect or engineer. Downloadable
C.O.’s may be obtained from the Building Information System (BIS)
I ADDED A FULL BATHROOM
TO MY BASEMENT FOR MY OWN USE, BUT DID NOT GET A BUILDING
PERMIT FIRST. IS THIS LEGAL?
No. Even if you do not intend to create a separate apartment to be rented
to tenants, you can still be fined for adding a full bathroom or kitchen
to your basement or attic -- or making other major alterations -- without
first obtaining permission from the Department of Buildings.
HOW DO I REPORT AN
The NYC Department of Buildings is responsible for investigating complaints
of illegal apartments. If you know of an illegal apartment in your area,
you can file a complaint by calling 311. You can also call my office, your
local community board or one of the elected officials who represents your
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER
A COMPLAINT IS FILED?
Whenever an illegal apartment complaint is received from a private citizen,
community group or elected official, an inspector from the Building Department’s
Quality of Life Task Force will inspect the dwelling. If the inspector
finds an illegal apartment or other violation of the Building Code, the
inspector will issue a violation notice to the owner. Sometimes the inspector
cannot gain access to the home, and will leave a notice asking the owner
to arrange for an inspection of the home. If the owner does not respond,
the inspector will return to the location at another time to try to gain
access. If necessary, the Department of Buildings can seek to obtain a
warrant from the court to enter your home.
WHAT DO I DO IF
I RECEIVE A VIOLATION NOTICE?
If you have received a notice of violation for maintaining an illegal apartment,
you may be required to attend a hearing at the Environmental Control Board
(ECB). The notice of violation will tell you the time, date and location
of the hearing. If you cannot attend the hearing on the specified date,
you can request a new date by calling the ECB Queens office at 1-718-298-7300.
ECB will try to accommodate you and will set a new date,
unless the hearing has already been rescheduled more than
once. If you or your representative do not attend the hearing,
a default judgment will be entered automatically.
By defaulting, you will be assessed the maximum penalty
allowed under the law. A default can be reopened in 30
days, but after 30 days you will need to provide documented
proof to the ECB Queens office justifying your failure
to attend the hearing on the scheduled date. If you continue
to ignore ECB hearing notices and fail to respond within
90 days, the Department of Finance can impose the maximum
DO I HAVE TO HIRE
Representation by an attorney is not mandatory. However, you may wish to
seek legal advice prior to going to the ECB hearing. You also may contact
the Building Department’s Administrative Enforcement Unit at 1-212-566-2850
beforehand if you have questions about the hearing process.
WHAT ARE THE FINES
FOR EACH VIOLATION?
The penalty for an illegal conversion violation ranges from $250 to $2,500.
A second offense at the same location within 18 months can result in fines
between $1,000 and $10,000. If you are convicted of a third violation within
a single 18-month period, you can be fined between $5,000 and $15,000.
In addition, ECB can impose a civil penalty of up to $100 per day from
the date the notice of violation is issued until the illegal condition
HOW IS AN ILLEGAL
An illegal conversion violation may be corrected in one of two ways:
- Remove the illegal condition: The altered spaces must
be restored to its prior legal use or layout. This may
require a permit to remove partitions, plumbing, fixtures
and entrances. All tenants in the illegal units must
- If possible, legalize the illegal condition: Under
certain limited circumstances, the additional housing
unit may be legalized by following the guidelines below
and obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy from the Department
of Buildings. The Certificate of Occupancy is a document
that describes the legal occupancy use of your building
(for example, a one-family home, a two-family home or
a 10-story apartment building). Go to www.nyc.gov/buildings
and check “Resolving Department of Buildings Violations” for
WHEN MUST THE ILLEGAL
CONDITION BE CORRECTED?
There are significant fines and penalties
for illegal apartment conversions. If you have an illegal
apartment in your home, you should take steps to correct
the illegal condition before you receive a notice of violation.
If you eliminate the illegal condition before the Buildings
Department conducts an inspection, you will not receive
a violation notice and will not be charged with any penalties.
If the Buildings Department conducts an inspection and
finds a violation of the Building Code, you should take
steps to eliminate the illegal condition immediately, because
civil penalties can be imposed from the date of the violation
notice until the date that the illegal condition is corrected.
HOW DOES THE VIOLATION GET
Attending the ECB hearing and paying a fine is not enough to get a violations
dismissed. You also must show that the illegal condition has been fixed,
by filing a Certificate of Correction with the Building Department’s
Administrative Enforcement Unit (AEU). The form is available from the AEU
or the borough office.
In order to prove that the condition has been corrected,
you must submit either evidence that the illegal condition
has been eliminated (such as photographs and bills from
contractors) or a new Certificate of Occupancy if you have
legalized the unit. This is very important, because penalties
can continue to accrue until the violation has been cured.
HOW DO I LEGALIZE AN ADDITIONAL
DWELLING UNIT IN
First you have to determine if your property is zoned for multiple housing
units or apartments. Second, the size of your property must be sufficient
under the zoning rules.
The building’s structure is also important. For
example, due to fire safety concerns, a wood frame house
cannot be converted to multiple housing units. For basic
zoning questions, you can call the Department of Buildings’ Customer
Service Department at 1-718-286-0600.
If the zoning, lot size and building structure are appropriate,
then you must hire a New York State-licensed architect
(R.A.) or professional engineer (P.E.) to prepare design
drawings and submit an alteration application to the Department
of Buildings on your behalf.
A filing fee must be paid when you submit the permit application,
and the size of the fee depends upon the scope of the work.
There is also a penalty for a legalization -- for a one-family
or two-family home, it is two times the cost of the filing
After the Buildings Department approves the application,
you will receive a work permit to legalize the existing
conditions. If plumbing or electrical work is required,
you must hire a NYC-licensed plumber or electrician to
verify that the work meets the standards of the Building
After the work is completed, you can request that the
Buildings Department issue a new Certificate of Occupancy.
Buildings Department inspectors will check your building
to make certain that it conforms with the plans submitted
by your architect or engineer. If it does, the Department
will issue a new Certificate of Occupancy, describing the
present status and legal use of the building.
If the zoning rules do not allow multiple housing units
or apartments, the improper use must be stopped and the
home must be restored to its prior legal layout.
CAN I APPEAL THE DECISION
OF THE BUILDINGS DEPARTMENT?
The Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) hears and
decides appeals from property owners whose applications
to construct or alter buildings or establish new uses have
been denied by the Department of Buildings. Under very
specific and limited circumstances, the Board may grant
a Variance or Special Permit if specific findings have
been made as prescribed by the zoning resolution, building
code and case law.
For further information you can contact BSA by calling
1-212-788-8500 or you can download instructions on how
to file an application at: www.nyc.gov/html/bsa/html/home/home.shtml.
However, applications require technical supporting data
and drawings that should be prepared for filing by licensed
professionals (attorneys, architects or engineers) who
have experience working with BSA.
LANDLORD / TENANT ISSUES
Rent: Landlords can commence a non-payment
proceeding in Housing Court against tenants in legal
or illegal units, and although individual cases may be
decided differently, tenants might be found liable for
Eviction: The landlord first serves
a 30-day eviction notice. If the tenant does not leave
in 30 days, the landlord can then file a summary eviction
proceeding in Housing Court. It usually takes 1-3 weeks
to take the case in front of a judge, who typically gives
the tenant 30-60 days to vacate the dwelling. As a result,
the entire process will take from two to four months before
the tenant is required to leave. In some cases, the court,
in its discretion, may grant an adjournment.
WHEN A ONE-FAMILY OR TWO-FAMILY
HOME IS CONVERTED TO A BUILDING WITH THREE OR MORE UNITS:
Rent: A landlord cannot
collect rent from any tenants where a one-family
dwelling has been illegally converted into
a building with three or more dwelling units.
In such case, neither the tenants in the
illegal units nor the tenants in the legal
units must pay rent, and the landlord cannot
bring a non-payment proceeding in Housing
Court. However, if the landlord has a legal
three-family dwelling with a valid registration
statement on file and adds an illegal apartment,
the landlord may seek action for non-payment,
but only against the tenants in the legal
Eviction: If a landlord has a legal three-family
dwelling with a valid registration statement on file, the
landlord can seek action in Housing Court to evict the
tenants. Most illegal conversions are in one-family and
two-family dwellings, and owners of these dwellings do
not have the right to seek eviction.
Please Note: This document is for
informational purposes only.
Tenants should seek legal advice for specific cases.
How can I get more information
ZONING RULES AND REGULATIONS:
NYC Department of City Planning / Zoning Information Desk
22 Reade Street
New York, New York 10007
NYC Department of Buildings
/ Customer Service Department
120-55 Queens Boulevard
Kew Gardens, New York 11424
NOTICES OF VIOLATION:
NYC Department of Buildings / Administrative Enforcement Unit
New York, New York 10007
Environmental Control Board - Queens
144-06 94th Avenue
Jamaica, New York 11435
YOUR RIGHTS AS A TENANT
FACING EVICTION FROM AN ILLEGAL DWELLING:
Queens Legal Services Corp.
89-02 Sutphin Boulevard
Jamaica, New York 11435
YOUR RIGHTS AS A LANDLORD
SEEKING TO EVICT TENANTS:
Rent Stabilization Association
123 William Street
New York, New York 10038
AN ILLEGAL APARTMENT OR OTHER BUILDING CODE VIOLATIONS: