KCP Exclusive: City Breaks Its Own Housing Laws


The city admitted Friday it was guilty of violating its own illegal housing conversion law in housing homeless people in a Bedford-Stuyvesant four-story walk up approved for 14-units of housing that was illegally converted into a 43-unit single room occupancy (SRO) building.

According to city records, Monroe Lewis LLC acquired the 529 Monroe Street building in May 2016 for $1.7 million, and between then and Sept. 2017, illegally converted it to a SRO. It then contracted management of the building to Core Services, a nonprofit agency with a city contract to place and manage homeless facilities.

Monroe Lewis LLC is one of many landlords who list 199 Lee Ave. as their business and mailing address. The Williamsburg building houses nearly 1000 mailboxes of which owners and management companies receive rent checks from tenants throughout the borough. The operator of the twitter handle @199lee tweets daily, “mail is done,” presumably to announce the arrival of incoming mail and packages.

Since September 2017, the city contracted with Core Services to house at least 40 residents in the illegal SRO who sought temporary housing from city agencies such as Human Resources Administration (HRA) and Homeless Services, which have been combined under the de Blasio Administration.

The city’s actions come at the same time it passed legislation that would ramp up penalties as well as allow the Department of Buildings easier access to buildings suspected of illegal home conversions. The revised law took effect Sept. 30, only 12 days before tenants began inhabiting the building.

In November 2017, the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) slammed the owner of the property with several fines including one for occupancy exceeding nearly three times the building’s Certificate of Occupancy and for altering plumbing without a permit.  

Despite the DOB leveling fines at the building’s owners for the illegal conversion, the HRA continued to house the homeless there, netting the landlord and Core over $40,000 a month in guaranteed city funding to split up as the city pays $1,047 per SRO unit.

A HRA spokesperson shifted the oversight responsibility of housing the homeless in an illegally converted building to another city agency, Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

“The wellbeing of our clients is our highest priority,” said the HRA spokesperson. “The building in question was inspected by HPD and determined to be suitable for occupancy.”

But a HPD spokesperson said their agency is only responsible for the oversight of tenants displaced for emergency reasons, such as fires and mandatory vacates.

The HRA spokesperson went on to confirm the facility would have to shut down in the event the proper permits were not obtained.

“We are working closely with the operator of this facility and other pertinent agencies to ensure that the building has the proper certification in place and we are not referring new clients until the process is completed. In the meantime, we are reaching out to current residents to inform them that they have the option to relocate,” said the HRA spokesperson.

But despite the HRA’s willingness to work with Monroe Lewis to get the proper certification, it would break the city’s own building codes to do so.

According to the DOB, Class-A apartments cannot be legally converted into SRO’s and any application to change would not be approved. 

Monroe Lewis could not be reached at post time. Core Services did not return requests for comment at post time.