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NYC Probe Finds Dozens Of Illegal Apartments

NEW YORK (CBS 2 / 1010 WINS / WCBS 880) -- Undercover investigators cracked down on dozens of spaces illegally converted into apartments, with living conditions that can put tenants and firefighters in danger.

The city's surveillance video paints a stark picture of life in one of the illegal apartments.

One Brooklyn landlord showed the cramped attic quarters – with loose electrical cords, a single small window, and a stove shoved between flammable belongings – to someone he believed to be a potential tenant, but who was actually a Buildings Department inspector.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the undercover operation found dangerous conditions in 54 of the 62 apartments it visited.

"The violations they uncovered were so serious that they posed immediate threats to public safety," the mayor said.

LISTEN: 1010 WINS' Stan Brooks reports
LISTEN: WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reports

The danger of illegal subdivisions hit home in January, when a fire in an illegally subdivided building in Bensonhurst resulted in the deaths of five people.

However, similar violations are often revealed only after a tragedy, so inspectors resorted to the ruse of answering Craigslist advertisements for rentals to gain access to buildings.

Inspectors found violations in buildings across the city. Vacate orders were issued for the illegal subdivisions, but people in Astoria, Queens told CBS 2 that it's happening in many more buildings than the one raided in that neighborhood.

In fact, it's the dirty little secret in many communities.

"They put the kitchen and bathroom in there – some of it is legal, some is not legal," contractor Alex Khan said. "They got problems sometimes."

The most common violation was having too few ways to escape fire. Many spaces had only one way in and out, which falls short of meeting code requirements.

"Illegal conversions can kill,'' the mayor said. "They pose a potentially deadly menace to people across our city, to people who live in them and to the people who live near them, and also to our firefighters who may find themselves dangerously boxed into rooms with no exits when they've been battling fires.''

The city said it will continue to vigorously go after violators.

In all, more than 100 violations were issued to landlords, with fines ranging from $6,000 to $25,000.

To resolve the violations, property owners must correct the illegal construction work and submit certificates of correction or sworn affidavits to the city explaining how the problems were fixed.

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