Fighting 21st century tenements: City looks to stop ‘half-floor’ subdivisions discovered on Lower East Side

Illegal conversions found on Henry Street in August. (Photos courtesy of the NYC Department of Buildings)

BY MARK HALLUM | It was the second-coming of the notorious tenement days in the Lower East Side this August when city officials discovered an apartment building split into half-floors — some of which not tall enough for an individual to stand upright in their own unit.

Even more perilous than the ceiling height at the Henry Street buildings was the lack of proper ventilation and egress, as well as the absence of various fire safety measures.

But the landlord was nice enough to put bubble wrap on the ceiling, according to the city Department of Buildings (DOB).

Now, the DOB and FDNY is launching an outreach effort to warn renters of the dangers of illegally converted apartments in which unscrupulous landlords set aside the safety of tenants in favor of extra income.

Starting Oct. 7, the city announced, it will be conducting outreach at the East Broadway Station, Delancey Street/Essex Street Station, New York Public Library Seward Park Branch and the Captain Jacob Joseph Playground.

Educating residents on the dangers of illegal conversions is critical to ending dangerous living conditions, according to Buildings Commissioner Melanie LaRocca.

“The Lower East Side has long been a historic hub for new immigrant communities coming to our city, and the tenants living there deserve safe and legal housing for themselves and their families,” LaRocca said. “Every New Yorker deserves a safe place to live, which is why we’re committed to rooting out dangerous firetraps wherever we find them and issuing strong enforcement actions against landlords who put their tenants lives at risk. Spotting and reporting an illegal conversion before moving in could end up saving your life – that’s why these community education campaigns with our partners at FDNY are so important.”

Several condo owners on Henry Street were found to be violating city code by splitting their floors horizontally down the middle making single occupant units that could be seen from the outside of the building from the windows.

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera chalked the illegal subdivision up to a lack of affordable housing in the city. The city warns renters to be weary of apartments listed at significantly lower rates than the surrounding area.

“As we work to address our city’s affordability crisis, it’s important that we also ensure our buildings are not being converted into dangerous and unsafe “half-floors” and other types of illegal conversions. No tenant should be living in a home without proper egress, windows, ventilation and fire safety systems,” Rivera said.

Renters should also be on the lookout for windows that are smaller than usual or if rooms and units do not have any windows at all.

Renting basements and attics are also illegal forms of conversions, according to the city.

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