Hidden Cameras, Craigslist Help City in Illegal Apts Sting
Matt Chaban Sept. 23, 2010, 6:56 p.m.
You thought your apartment was bad.
It is pretty well-known that New Yorkers will do almost anything to live in the city, and there are plenty of landlords more than eager to take advantage of them. One trick is to rent out places–attics, basements, factories, garages… you name it–that are not legally inhabitable. The city used a clever trick, looking for telltale signs in Craiglist postings, such as all utilities being covered, and then brought in the inspectors with hidden cameras to catch the perps in action. (See below.) Of the 62 rentals inspected, 54 turned out to be illegal, a whopping 87 percent, which accounted for 104 violations with tickets ranging from $6,000 to $25,000.
While this all may seem quaint and clever, it’s about more than living conditions–there are lives at stake. So explained the mayor in a release:
“Illegal conversions pose a serious risk to tenants, neighbors and first responders. Property owners who create these illegal living spaces are compromising public safety. It’s often difficult, and sometimes impossible, for investigators to gain access to potential illegal conversions and this undercover operation is a new, creative way to stop some unsafe conditions.”
Because landlords or tenants can deny inspectors access when they answer an illegal apartment complaint, and it can be difficult and time consuming to acquire a warrant, this new strategy provides a better way to crack down on such nefarious landlords. And the mayor certainly couldn’t have asked for a better deterrent than posting these scamsters dingy buildings on YouTube.
Fun Fact: According to the annual Mayor’s Management Report, inspectors have had an increasingly difficult time getting into such buildings over the past three years, down from a 51 percent admittance rate in Fiscal Year 2008 to 45 percent for FY2010, which ends each June. Subsequently, violations for illegal residences has fallen as well, from 35.5 percent in FY2008 to 31.5 percent in FY2010. So it looks like the hidden cameras got here just in time.