Illegal home conversions have Dyker, Ridge schools bursting at seams

This heat map shows the frequency of 311 complaints regarding illegal home conversions, and the degree of overcrowding in local elementary schools.
Brooklyn Daily
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The rash of illegal home conversions in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Bensonhurst is causing a school-overcrowding crisis, and the city isn’t taking the issue seriously, locals say.

The practice of subdividing two-family homes into multi-family apartments is bringing more kids to District 20 schools than classrooms can handle, according to local leaders. A section of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights with the most 311 complaints of illegal home conversions in the area also has the most overcrowded elementary schools, according to our analysis of school enrollment and 311 complaints within community boards 10 and 11.

The School for Future Leaders, the Ralph A. Fabrizio School, PS 127, and PS 176 enrolled at least 1.5 times their stated capacity in 2014, Department of Education data show. The four elementary schools sit within the same square mile of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights where 311 has received the heaviest concentration of illegal conversion complaints since 2010.

At 171-percent enrollment, Dyker Heights’ PS 176 is the most overcrowded of all of District 20’s 37 schools, and the situation is having a clear, negative impact on kids, according to the administrator of the neighborhood’s community board.

“At PS 176, there are kids in hallways,” said Community Board 10 district manager Josephine Beckmann.

The school zones in District 20 where the Department of Buildings has issued the most illegal conversion tickets also tend to have more overcrowded schools, data show. The city slapped eight building owners within the area zoned for PS 176 with violations since 2010, more than areas zoned for other schools, according to city data. Enforcement of the laws prohibiting chopping up residences into many apartments is notoriously lax, as the city sent inspectors to investigate fewer than half of the complaints in the area since 2012, and inspector protocol is to close a complaint if no one at the address lets them in after two visits.

The main driver of school overcrowding and the illegal home conversions is population growth due to immigration, according to Community Board 10’s education committee chair.

“The number one issue is immigration,” said Bob Hudock. “Bensonhurst is the number two neighborhood in the city for foreign-born immigrants.”

A 2013 report from the Department of City Planning found that Bensonhurst has the second-highest number of foreign-born residents in the city.

A lack of low-priced housing drives families into illegally converted homes, and Hudock believes that causes the city to underestimate just how big the population boom is, since tenants in the cramped apartments typically try to avoid official notice, skewing census data. Also, landlords who illegally subdivide houses routinely lie to the city about the numbers of units and occupants, said Hudock, making city records an inaccurate measure of local population in areas with high rates of illegal conversions.

The Department of Education uses data from the departments of health, housing preservation, city planning, and buildings to project future seat needs, according to a spokesman, who said the projections “have been accurate to around 1 to 2 percent” during the last decade.

But in a seeming vindication of Hudock’s criticism, the Department of Education’s plan to add seats to District 20 falls more than 30 percent short of the district’s current stated needs.

The city plans to create 4,044 new elementary school seats in the district as soon as it finds a suitable site to build, according to Beckmann, but even that many new seats wouldn’t bring District 20’s schools down to 100 percent of official capacity.

There are 25,594 students currently enrolled in the district’s 37 elementary schools and only 19,760 seats, so even after those planned seats are added, there will still be a 1,790-desk shortfall.

Local pols are calling on city agencies need to work together to shed light on the growing problem of illegal conversions, and one Brooklyn lawmaker suggested the Department of Education start reporting obvious red flags to the buildings department as a first step.

“When they’ve got 12 kids listed at one address, they should be telling the Department of Buildings,” said Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D–Sunset Park). “I don’t think the city is taking this seriously right now.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 5:37 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reader feedback

Benson Hurst from Bensonhurst says:
“The 2013 edition of The Newest New Yorkers paints a vivid portrait of the immigrants who strengthen our many neighborhoods with their presence,” said City Planning Executive Director Richard Barth. “Our capacity to welcome newcomers has been historically central to New York City’s economic success, and our task is to continue to enhance opportunities that make New York a place where immigrants want to be and ensure a continuation of the dynamic ebb and flow of people that makes our city great.”
Nov. 17, 2014, 10:39 am
Bay Ridge from Dyker says:
@Benson Hurst from Bensonhurst

Absolutely no argument or doubt that immigrants strengthen not only our city, but also our country. The issue is NOT an argument against immigration, it is about the flouting of existing laws and the breakdown of services and quality of life that illegal activity brings with it. These laws have been put into effect to protect everyone no matter what generation of immigrants they may be. Almost everyone from the Bay Ridge Dyker Heights community can trace their roots in the present to their family’s original home country. Immigration is nothing new to this community.

"...our task is to continue to enhance opportunities that make New York a place where immigrants want to be and ensure a continuation of the dynamic ebb and flow of people that makes our city great.”
Nov. 17, 2014, 3:47 pm
Brad from Midwood says:
How about busing some of the kids to schools that have the space? I feel like they're crowding in to those areas because the school districts are decent. It would help other underperforming districts to send a bunch of kids from Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst there, and it would resolve the issue immediately.
Nov. 17, 2014, 4:36 pm
B.R. Dyker from Dyker Heights says:
Busing is not the solution, nor is immigration the problem. If we talk too much about immigration it just reinforces the stereotype that south Brooklyn is racist, so let's avoid that topic and instead focus on getting this fixed. We simply need the city to enforce the laws on the books, and Councilman Gentile must get creative and propose new ordinance to give the DOB more investigative authority. Abbate is right in that different agencies should start to share information so we can effectively triangulate the problem, but it should also be noted that politicians like him have known about this problem for many, MANY years and have only started to do something about it because it's become a bigger issue.
Nov. 18, 2014, 9:31 am
Benson Hurst from Bensonhurst says:
A little history lesson Mr. Ridge, the area of Dyker heights is NOT South Brooklyn. Funny how the poster knows what goes on in the privacy of someones' home. Could it be ignorance of different cultures ? In some cultures there may be larger families living together. However greedy landlords exist in all ethnicities. At one time the term 'Mother- Daughter" comes to mind to describe illegal apartments. Now they are called illegal conversions when it concerns hard working immigrants that can afford the greedy sellers properties. As far as 'stereotype' that you mention if the shoe fits...
Nov. 18, 2014, 10:33 am
B.R. Dyker from Dyker Heights says:
What one earth are you talking about Mr. Hurst? South Brooklyn is now widely accepted as a reference to the geographically southern portion of Brooklyn, not the old-time reference to Downtown Brooklyn. That being simply established, if you're saying you don't consider illegal home conversions to be a serious issue in our community that requires policy solutions, then consider yourself in a minority of one. It's a free country, but I can assure that NO ONE in the neighborhoods of South Brooklyn agrees with you.
Nov. 18, 2014, 10:53 am
Benson Hurst from Bensonhurst says:
Only the Dyker people call themselves South Brooklyn.
You should familiarize yourself with Brooklyn's history.
What you perceive it to be does not make it so. Actualy if geographical location is what you prefer then a more accurate southern portion of Brooklyn would be Coney Island. It's not that difficult.
Nov. 18, 2014, 4:22 pm
Crawdad from Fort Hamilton says:
This is silly. We know that the home conversions are directly due to the downzonings of past years.

People want to live in this part of South Brooklyn because of the nice neighborhoods, good schools, and safe streets, and they will do so, even if local NIMBYs downzone everything.

Either allow more development, or you're going to have to deal with illegal home conversions. It's one or the other.
Nov. 18, 2014, 8:13 pm
Brooklyn Investor from Kesingston, Ditmas Park, Clinton Hill, Bed Stuy says:
The issue really is schools, obviously from the school over crowding. If the only place you can afford to rent are in bad school areas (at least it may be Perceived as bad by the renter), then you are willing to move your family into an illegal living situation despite the fact that it may include dangers or overcrowding and code violations.

This might be Landlord greed, but it also has to do with tenants willingness and motivations.

Why only look at it from one side of the coin?

If we look at it from Tenants motivations, then it's obvious that you need to make the cheaper rental neighborhoods safer, improve the schools, and keep the rents cheap!

If you can solve that, then you can solve the illegal conversion in Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge.
Nov. 19, 2014, 12:35 pm
joe from blow says:

Building more as we are only enables the problem of affordability, as the people buying have no concept of value.

NYC has no control of the real estate sector which is eating our city alive.

Peeps need to step up and realize breeding like the Brady Bunch is dumb, as that in itself is bad for 'the kids' everyone claims to care about.
Nov. 19, 2014, 1:24 pm
Jim from Bensonhurst says:
According to Councilman Gentile: City resources such as water, sewage, sanitation, first responders, and even public schools are allocated to a community based on how many people for whom the community is zoned. Illegal conversions increase the number of people consuming those resources beyond what was intended, diminishing availability for everyone". DOB rep said: “Illegal conversions pose a hazard to tenants, with faulty wiring that can cause fires or excavated basements weakening building foundations and risking collapse.”
Nov. 19, 2014, 5:05 pm
John from Bensonhurst says:
Aside from the fire risk that illegal conversions pose, a neighborhood's quality of life is affected as unplanned growth leads to school overcrowding, sanitation problems and reduced parking availability -- creating an overall strain on municipal services.
Nov. 19, 2014, 5:15 pm
Joe from Bensonhurst says:
In addition to fines, it is now a crime.



An act to amend the penal law, in relation to establishing the crime of illegal conversion or alteration of real property


Section 1 of the bill amends the penal law by adding a new section 145.75 creating the crime of illegal conversion or alteration of real property. A person is guilty of illegal conversion or alteration of real property when that person (1) knowingly participated in, or if he or she is the owner, manager or tenant of such property, observed or was otherwise aware of the alteration or conversion of such property in violation of any state or local law, ordinance, code or rule or regulation relating to real property, buildings or multiple dwellings and (2) the alteration or conversion causes a serious physical injury or fatality to one or more persons. Illegal conversion or alteration of real property is a class C felony; provided, however, that illegal conversion of alteration of real property that results in fatality to one or more persons is a class B felony.

Section 2 of the bill sets forth an effective date on the first November next succeeding the date on which it shall have become law.
Nov. 19, 2014, 5:23 pm
Benson Hurst from Bensonhurst says:
It has has always been a crime ( misdemeanor ) to violate local codes, that's why violations are issued. What # 682 does is make it a felony ONLY if the illegal conversion results in a fatalaty or serious physical injury. Read the bill.
Nov. 20, 2014, 11:19 am
B.R. Dyker from Dyker Heights says:
There's lots of good points made here, especially on the issue that all of our services from schools to sanitation are stressed by illegal home conversions. Hurst is right, it's always been illegal, the problem now is strengthening enforcement. It seems to me that other cities have a much firmer grip on development in their neighborhoods, we need to figure out how to do that here. I'm by no means against development on the whole, but this is a BIG city and the neighborhoods of south Brooklyn have 1-3 family home character that has to be maintained.
Nov. 20, 2014, 6:17 pm
guest from bay ridge says:
Bay Ridge has really gone downhill. I have noticed a drastic change from years ago, since I moved back here recently.
Nov. 21, 2014, 10:03 pm

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