NYPD Investigating Basement Apartment Deaths

A flooded basement apartment in Queens (Getty)

Landlords could face consequences after Tropical Storm Ida killed 11 people in flooded basement apartments last week.

Gothamist reported police are investigating six separate incidents, which could potentially lead to criminal charges for property owners. The NYPD told The Real Deal on Wednesday that the probes are ongoing.

Five of the six apartments were illegally converted units, according to New York City’s Department of Buildings. Four were in Queens and one was in Brooklyn. The legal unit was on Grand Central Parkway in Queens.

The basement drownings were a first for the city, but landlords have been prosecuted after fires in which illegal building conditions contributed to deaths. But Mayor Bill de Blasio said in his press briefing Tuesday that the city doesn’t “have an immediate solution” to address illegal basement apartments.

“I could tell you that we’ve got some miraculous plan to solve the illegal basement problem overnight. We don’t. Let me be blunt about that,” the mayor said. “It is a massive structural problem in the city. It has been for decades.”

Basement units are required to have a ceiling at least 7 feet high, a window in each room and an exit to the outside to be considered legal. Many residents live in these units because they are affordable.

In 2019, the city started a pilot program to legalize basement apartments and bring them up to code, but a lack of interest stifled the initiative. The city estimates 100,000 people live in about 50,000 basement units, though NYC Base Campaign has said there could be six times as many such units.

[Gothamist] — Holden Walter-Warner

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