City Council member Margaret Chin and 35 Market Street A building superintendent changed residents’ keys and locked them out of their Chinatown building last Wednesday, after the Department of Buildings discovered illegally partitioned apartments, Downtown Express reported (note: correction appended).
Inspectors found violations in eight of the low-income rental building’s 18 apartments, and began taping vacate orders around the building, at 35 Market Street, that day. “If we find conditions that are immediately hazardous and that put [residents’] lives at risk, the safest thing is to vacate the building — for their safety,” said Ryan Fitzgibbon, deputy press secretary for the DOB. “The owner needs to restore the secondary means of egress so we can allow people back in.” One three-bedroom apartment that rents for $1,600 in the building, for example, was split into a fourth bedroom and rented out to a subletter to help the tenants pay their rent.
According to local brokers the practice is common in the densely packed Chinatown neighborhood. Residents of the building watched as walls that marked their bedroom were torn down by the superintendent. While renters will be able to return to the building once the DOB clears the vacate order, subletters that lived in the partitioned rooms have nowhere to go. “The inspections are meant to save lives, but they leave people homeless,” broker Sean Tang told Downtown Express. Local City Council member Margaret Chin acknowledged the problem and said that a solution wouldn’t be easy. “This is a civil and human rights issue,” she said. [Downtown Express]