The fire that killed a family of three in an illegally subdivided Crotona home sent shockwaves throughout the borough this past April.
Many Bronxites are concerned over the possibility of a similar incident occurring in their neighborhoods, so the Morris Park Community Association has prioritized the goal of decreasing the number of hazardous illegally-subdivided homes around Morris Park this spring.
The association is encouraging its members and residents to be persistent in informing city authorities about any dwelling that appears to house more residents than its size suggests it should.
Al D’Angelo, MPCA president, has noticed an increase in single room occupancies around Morris Park. He said that besides the alarming safety concern, this abuse brings down the tone of the entire community.
“The reason I’m bringing it up is I don’t like what’s happening in the neighborhood,” D’Angelo said. “People are paying cash so it’s not taxable, parking becomes a problem. It affects quality of life.”
Anyone who wants to report an illegally subdivided home should call 311 to file a report with the Department of Buildings. The DOB will then visit the home and attempt an inspection.
The visits don’t always work, however, because DOB agents need permission to enter the premise. The Crotona home on Prospect Avenue, for example, was reported several times within the past three years, but DOB never gained access.
The access issue presents a major problem in combating illegally subdivided homes, but D’Angelo said doggedness is key.
“We’re calling 311, and staying tenacious with it until either they make a mistake or answer the door,” he said.There are no definitive guidelines for what makes a home illegally subdivided, although the DOB has a list of possible warning signs on its website.
Oftentimes, homeowners will rent an apartment to a relative or local college student. D’Angelo said by no means did he consider those types of situations a problem.
“One of the things I don’t want to do is get a guy who puts a mother-in-law in the basement,” D’Angelo said. “It’s when you have a one- or two- family and turn into five-family or have garage and turn it into a studio apartment. That’s when it’s a safety hazard.”
For Councilman Jimmy Vacca, SROs have been an ongoing battle.“We’ve been successful in closing down many SROs over the years, mainly in the Van Nest and Zerega areas,” Vacca said. “We have to have a zero-tolerance policy toward SROs because they truly are a safety, as well as a quality of life issue. If anyone knows of an SRO, I urge them to contact my office so we can get city agencies involved.”
“We can’t just throw people out,” said 49th Precinct Community Affairs officer Vic DiPierro.“They don’t have to let DOB people in, so there’s nothing we can do about that either. “It’s a very difficult task to take on at this point in the game.”