NYC inspectors only discovered an apartment was split into 9 illegal micro-units because a tenant happened to open the door when they arrived

Kelly McLaughlin

NYC Department of Buildings

The New York apartment building where two condos were cut into 18 illegal micro-units has had nearly three dozen complaints against it in the last 19 years — including reports of illegal micro-units going back to 2012.

The apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side came under fire last week after two condo owners were issued fines of more than $100,000 after their single-occupancy units had been constructed into nine separate units each.

Several of the micro-units in apartments #601 and #701 had no windows, lacked ventilation and fire systems, and were deemed safety risks to the tenants, according to New York's Department of Buildings. All of them were rented illegally.

department of buildings lower east side illegal micro units 165 henry street

According to a database from New York's Department of Buildings, 165 Henry Street, which is made up of 27 individually-owned, legal condos, has faced 32 complaints since 2001.

Read more:A Manhattan landlord is facing nearly $145,000 in fines for splitting up a condo horizontally to build 9 illegal micro-units that resemble a scene in 'Being John Malkovich'

On August 18, two days after #601 and #701 were vacated over the dangerous living conditions last week, an inspector "vacated an occupancy" — meaning he deemed the space unfit or unsafe for a person to live there — in the cellar of the building.

Micro-apartments and apartment conversions are more common than you'd think

A representative from the Department of Buildings told Insider it received reports of 17,642 illegal conversions across New York City in the last year.

Yet, explained the representative, a complaint may not necessarily result in the issuing of a citation or fine. That's because, unless there is a court order to enter a unit, inspectors are not allowed to enter a building or apartment without permission, due to the Constitution's Fourth Amendment.

And, because of the large volume of cases NYC inspectors are tasked with investigating, inspectors are required to close complaints after two attempts at entering the unit. For an inspector to return again, another complaint has to be filed, meaning many, many violations are never fully investigated.

2012 complaint at the address, for example, reported an almost identical situation to the micro-apartments that were discovered last week; the landlord of apartment 703 had "subdivided" his condo into an 8-room apartment where tenants shared one kitchen and one bathroom — according to records, the case was closed without being resolved. Another call was made about the apartment in March 2013, and again, an inspector was unable to enter the apartment and the case was closed.

The recent discovery of micro-apartments at the Henry Street address was only made, said the DOB representative, because someone happened to answer the door when an inspector arrived.

According to the DOB, prior to this month there were no records of complaints against Xue Pin Ni and Jin Ya Lin, the landlords who respectively owned #601 and #701 at the Lower East Side building involved in last week's micro-apartment investigation.

Gothamist reported that each of the illegal micro-apartments were being rented out for $600 a month. Buildings Department spokesman Andrew Rudansky told the New York Post that some of the units had ceilings that were 4-and-1/2-feet tall high. The tenants who were living in the units have been offered relocation assistance from the Red Cross.

"Tenants living in truncated windowless dwelling units like this poses an extreme hazard to their safety, as well as the safety of their neighbors, and first responders," Rudansky told Insider in a statement. "Dangerous living conditions like this cannot be tolerated in our city, and we are holding these landlords accountable for their egregious failure to keep the building safe and livable for tenants."

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