BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
An Elmhurst couple was charged for allegedly illegally converting a one-family home that they own into five single-room occupancies (SROs), putting more than 15 residents in danger, while charging them high rent, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
Segundo Chimbay, 53, and his wife Maria Chimbay, 52, both of whom live on 94th Street in Elmhurst, own a property at 40-33 Forley St., which they converted into five bedrooms—three on the first floor, one in the basement and another in the attic, all of which share one kitchen.
On March 14, 2016, a complaint was made to the city’s Department of Investigations (DOI), alleging that the home was unlawfully converted in multiple dwellings. Later that day, the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) conducted an investigation and allegedly found that “the location constituted a ‘specified immediately hazardous violation’ in that the building had been ‘illegally converted to or maintained as a dwelling for occupancy by four or more families.’”
The investigation resulted in the DOB requiring that all tenants vacate. However, a DOB follow-up inspection on Feb. 15 determined that the same tenants were living at the converted home.
“Renting illegal apartments can not only cost bad actor landlords $50,000 or more in fines, but it can also cost them their freedom,” said DOB Commissioner Richard Chandler. “Illegal apartments often lack basic safety standards, such as having two exits in case one is blocked by a fire. We issue vacate orders only as a last resort, when there’s an immediate risk to tenants’ safety. Putting renters back in dangerous living spaces, as the defendants are alleged to have done, shows complete and utter disregard for people’s lives.”
According to the DA’s office, the Chimbays were collecting rents between $750 and $1,400 per month in cash, despite having been served by the city to vacate the premises.
“The defendants are accused of trading the safety of their tenants for cold, hard cash,” said Brown. “In addition to putting a strain on city services, such as parking, transportation, waste disposal and schools, illegal conversions endanger the lives of building residents as well as firefighters and other personnel who, in responding to an emergency, would have been confronted by a maze of rooms with no way out.”
The Chimbays, who were ordered to surrender their United States passports, are facing charges that include scheme to defraud, grand larceny, reckless endangerment and 15 violations of the New York City Administrative Code.
The couple is expected to appear in court on April 9 and could face up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400, ext. 144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.