Illegal Conversions


Every building in New York City is located within a designated zone, due to the 1961 Zoning Resolution. Primarily, buildings can have residential, commercial, or manufacturing purposes. Zoning can protect a neighborhood’s unique character, or prevent clashing developments from emerging. They also are in place to prevent an area with limited resources being oversaturated with people.

Zones regulate which buildings people can reside in, and where new apartments can be built. It also means that one cannot alter the use of a space without first receiving permission from the DOB.

Illegal Conversions

If a building is only zoned for commercial or manufacturing use, nobody can reside within those walls. On the flip side, a business cannot be run in a building only zoned for residential use. If a person has a home business, it can only take up a max of 25% of the overall space, or 500 square feet, whichever is less. Dividing an apartment into Single Room Occupancies (S.R.O.) is also illegal.

Here are some signs that a room has been converted illegally:

image (3) An attic room
image (2) A cellar room (more than half of the floor’s height is below curb level)
image Electricity is received from an extension cord
image (1) Having a padlocked door (you have to unlock it from the inside to exit)

Illegal conversions pose safety concerns by causing overcrowding, and fire hazards. It’s more likely for egress to be blocked or hazardous construction work to be done when proper government permission has not been obtained. This increases the risk for not only everyone in the building, but for neighboring buildings as well.

Properly Converting

Check the building’s Certificate of Occupancy, which states the official use of the building. For example, a building could be listed as being a store, or a two-family dwelling. This will also help you determine if an already existing space is illegal.

If the building is not zoned for the work you wish to do, it is possible to get the zoning altered. You can propose an amendment that affects just a particular lot, or a larger area. The proposal must go through a public formal review process.

If you are appropriately zoned, acquire the appropriate permits, and consult with a licensed engineer or architect. There are additional factors that may prevent the space from being converted, such as square footage, and building material.

Violations and Penalties

If there is an illegal scenario or a suspicion about one, tenants are able to call 311 or go on the official website and report the infraction that has occurred.

Penalties are issued when conversion rules are infracted. Even once a penalty has been paid, a space must be reverted back into compliance. If an unlawful conversion has taken place in a living space, and the original floor plan needs to be restored, residents must leave until the work is completed. The Environmental Control Board (ECB) issues $25,000 penalty if the named respondent doesn’t attend the hearing after receiving an illegal residency violation.


  • An interactive map for the entire city can be found here, visually displaying zone boundaries.

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