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North End Homeowner Who Turned His Home into a Hotel Facing Stiff Sanctions from New Rochelle Building Department

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North End Homeowner Who Turned His Home into a Hotel Facing Stiff Sanctions from New Rochelle Building Department

November 20, 2010 - 00:59
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867 Weaver Markup-455.jpgNew Rochelle, NY -- The owner of a single-family home located at 867 Weaver Avenue in New Rochelle is due in New Rochelle City Court on December 10th to explain his turning a single-family North End home into what amounted to an illegal Single-Room Occupancy hotel, long outlawed in New Rochelle.

John Deraffele, the owner, was served with five appearance tickets covering five major violations: (1) building permit required for 2 sheds and deck in rear of property; (2) building permit required for finishing third floor with full bath; (3) use of a one-family dwelling as a three-family dwelling; (4) use of third floor as a dwelling is not permitted; (5) use of second floor as a dwelling is not permitted.

The building inspector report obtained by Talk of the Sound shows the house had been converted into a boarding house with the second floor basically an SRO hotel for five college students.

A floor by floor summary of the building inspector report follows (portions were redacted in original):

Basement -- Fire Department traced tile flue pipe and noticed that tile flue exited tile building through the rear wall of the building but could find no evidence of the pipe at tile exterior of tile building. The flue pipe had been covered with exterior siding; this cover had prevented the products of combustion from exiting tile structure. Further inspection of this home is required to determine if there is occupancy in the basement as some of the basement had doors that were keyed and locked.

1st Floor -- Main entrance facing Weaver Street, one one door with key lock, tenant stated it was entrance to the owners John Deraffele dwelling. Con Edison took readings of the stove in tile first floor apartment and found them to be elevated.

2nd Floor -- Observed 3 doors with key locks. One at the top of stairs which stated was occupied by five college students, which
she stated pay $650 each, and the second door on the left hand side of the common walkway. Interviews revealed the second floor was occupied by at least 4 people. Keyed entry indicating that this floor was set up as a rooming house. All doors leading to
bedrooms on this floor had key locks installed in them. One second floor tenant later stated that he paid $625.00 a month rent. I asked him if all the tenants pooled their money and paid the landlord or if they paid individually and he stated to me that they all paid individually. There was a full kitchen located on the second floor of the home as well. There was a large bubble located in the ceiling of the kitchen on the second floor, and the tile floor of this kitchen was broken. Both are property maintenance issues as the ceiling and the floor were in need of repair.

3rd Floor -- Tenant/mother, daughter paying $1,050 in rent for years; boy friend lives in another apartment on third floor. 3rd Floor - observed a two bedroom dwelling unit with a full kitchen and bath, within the bedroom on the left hand side, observed a walk in closet and within this walk in closet observed a 4' closet with 2 pull open doors and behind these doors, a heating unit was observed. Both rooms located in this apartment also had key locks on the doors. Tenant indicated that she had resided at this apartment for the last 7 years. A boiler had been installed in the attic in a confined space. The boiler had been placed on a piece of sheetrock over a wood floor. Access to the third floor dwelling unit was through a common hallway from the second floor.

While the building inspector was on the scene a man parked in a van (William Alexander of 3251 Mickle Avenue in the Bronx) was identified by a tenant as having done work in the third floor apartment. Tenant stated that there was a dispute with John Deraffele over payment. Deraffele did not want to pay for the work. Tenant stated Alexander was welding pipes in one of her walls.

Alexander was asked if he had a county home improvement license. He said no. He was asked if he possessed a plumbing or electrical license, he said no. He was informed him that to perform home improvement work in Westchester County that home Improvement license is required, and that Plumbing or Electric, all work also requires licenses from Westchester County. Mr. Alexander stated to me that he had worked on the thermostat of the home, replaced t-valves within the home as well and that he held no licenses.

Further review of assessors' card and property card are needed to determine if porches were enclosed legally and to determine if the deck at the rear of the structure is legal. A search of the building card and assessors' record both indicate that this is a single family home. This home is located in an RI-20 Zoning district.

There are 11 Comments

You know I said to myself, "self, I live next door and I don't even know half these people. Where are they coming from? It was like a clown car at the circus!"

Thank the good Lord himself for taking notice. I thought I was going crazy. And I swear at least one of the occupants is a hoarder! I asked myself, "self, how does anyone ever let it get this bad?!?!?!?!"

Roberta the Postperson

This makes me wonder if our building dept asked to see the mailing address for IONA students and compared it with single family dwellings, would they find more of this over loading?.

I wish to address the erroneous article posted above. The Building inspector who arrived at the house after the fire department (who by the way did a great job in lowering the levels of the carbon monoxide in a very efficient and courteous manor), then proceeded to go through the house without permission, violating the tenants rights, and after a long period of time in which he kept the tenants out in the cold weather, recorded all misinformation in his report , which I would like to address:

a. In the building inspectors report as logged into the “Talk of the Sound” he stated the second floor was occupied by 5 College students. The truth is there were four tenants at the time living there. One of which is leaving for Afghanistan within the week and who worked for a Fortune 500 company. Of the other three tenants, one works for a Fortune 500 Company, One works for a securities Firm, and One is a Swimming Coach. So where did this building inspector come up with his information???

b. Third Floor, the report states there were three people living in two apartments living on the third floor. This is also UNTRUE, there is one apartment on the third floor, in which a Woman and her Daughter lived there for 6 years. In addition, the report about a heating system on the third floor, seeming to point that it was some kind of an illegal system, is completely erroneous. The system was installed over 30 years ago by the previous owner. When I purchased the house this was pre-existing and to my knowledge legally installed by the previous owner.

c. In the article, the inspector refers to an Assessors Card, not to any building department file. Don’t you find this interesting??? The same inspector in the past has stated to me and my attorney on another matter that Assessors Cards aren’t worth the paper they are written on because they are incorrect and outdated and never used by the building department. I guess he should have said “never used by the building department until it works to their benefit”.

d. The report goes on to mention one “William Alexander”, my maintenance man, who the inspector tried to intimidate and suggest that he was illegally working on my house and needed a license. This inspector was inappropriate to say those things when they are completely not factual and incorrect.

e. In the inspectors report, he talks about a shed and a deck. The deck existed prior to my purchase of the home in 1982 and the sheds were installed around 1986, and I believe this is before the new code was in effect and the fact that they are under 80sq feet, these are legal because they were prior to the new code.

So now that we have addressed the facts that were misinformed to the readers, Id like to give you the facts that I know of and the facts that I believe to be true at this time:

1.. No files exist, I have been told, in the building department for 867 Weaver Street. Either this is true or they are refusing to turn over the files

2. When I purchased the house 28 years ago, there was no Certificate of Occupancy ever issued, and this was confirmed at that time, and when I did several Re-Fi’s over the years, so no where is there a record of this being a One Family house, except in the mind of the inspector.

3. I purchased this house as a multi-family, confirmed by the realtor at the time. The house had no violations on it and had multi-families living in the house at the time I purchased.

4. This house was previously owned by the owner of the golf range and subsequently there after by the owner of the Cherry Lawn Farm, which as you know were both retail operations in a residential zone, but were allowed to exist because it is called “Non-Conforming Use”. In my research to date, my home is of “Non-Conforming Use”.

5. In the building inspectors report he acts as if he was shocked to find this multi-family house, yet, in 2006/7 a company hired by the “Colony at Cherry Lawn” provided the city and the building department with a report outlining the “Non-Conforming Use” of the Cherry Lawn Golf Range and of the house situated along the entrance to an easement (which is my house) outlining with pictures that this is a multi-family house existing in a “Non-Conforming “ zone. The city was formally put on notice at that time and chose to do nothing. I wonder why??? And I wonder why this inspector didn’t know about this report?? It was not a secret.

6. Since I received the tickets from the city, I proceeded to do my due diligence, but to date the city has refused to turn over the necessary files, even after I filed a “Freedom of Information” on 11/22/2010. I wonder if they are doctoring any files??? Of hiding the files?? Or throwing away and files?? Because I was entitled to those files within 5days thereafter and have still not received them.

7. The house in question in this building inspectors report, I have owned for 28 years, and it has always been a multi-family. In those 28years, the police, fire, building personnel have been in this house multiple times, and not one person ever said “its odd that this multi-family is in a one-family zone”.

8. Up until a few years ago, my driveway was the entrance to the “Cherry Lawn Golf Range” and hundreds of cars passed through each day, and I’m sure in those cars, were city officials that hit golf balls, and I never hid the fact that my house was a multi-family for all to see as they passed through.

In summary, on Friday 12/10/2010 I will be in court to plead not guilty to the 5 tickets issued. I will then be asking for a trial by jury in the near future to resolve this issue once and for all. I will ask the court to issue as many subpoenas as necessary to prove this house was “Non-Conforming” and a multi-family as far back as the 1940’s. If I am not successful, I will apologize and correct any violations immediately. If I am successful, I will seek what is due me for the slander and misinformation stated in “Talk of the Sound” based on an erroneous report.

- John DeRaffele

So let me get this straight, you purchased the house 28-years ago and refinanced multiple times without a certificate of occupancy? You must be a personal friend of Bernie Madoff. Please publish the names of the banks and mortgage companies you used I’m sure there are many homeowners faced with foreclosure who would risk doing business with these scoundrels to keep their homes.

You state; “1.. No files exist, I have been told, in the building department for 867 Weaver Street.” That strikes me funny in that every house that pays taxes has a building card and when I searched 867 Weaver on the City’s property portal the cards and information exist.

You never reference the reason for the 911 call, which is that fact that your house was resided and the botched job blocked the flue pipe causing a deadly backup of carbon monoxide. This reflects the type of people/businesses you deal with and therein the type of person you are. The information the inspector received was from your tenants and “handyman” on the scene. You were not present so to comment on statements made by others that you did not witness is reckless not to mention outright stupid. Any non-conforming use of that house by the non-conforming golf course ceased when the golf course ceased to exist.

At the end of the day, you are the brother of a well-known Diner builder who is a major political contributor here in New Rochelle trying to throw his brother’s weight around. Rather than throw stones at the city for doing its due diligence you should put your tail between your legs and correct the life threatening situations that you caused.

Robert Cox's picture

Mr. DeRaffele

Thank you interesting remarks above.

Let me see if I have this right.

You want to bring a lawsuit against Talk of the Sound for accurately reporting information provided by the City of New Rochelle? Good luck with that. If your lawyer is advising you that you have some claim for defamation against Talk of the Sound you might want to get a new lawyer.

I cannot speak to what happened once the building department began to inspect your house but it is my understanding that your tenant called 911 based on a well-founded (and, it turns out, correct) fear that she was being poisoned with carbon monoxide in your house. I believe that once the fire department or police department take control of a scene they then have a right to go anywhere and everyone to investigate and can bring along with them whoever they want to inspect the premises including a building department official. Given this, the idea that the building department had no right to move about your house and speak with tenants is incorrect.

Even if you had such a claim it would only apply to a single-family house. You have claimed it was a legal multi-family dwelling. If that is true then, from my research, the building department would have had the right to inspect the property because it is essentially a commercial facility.

In short order you will have the opportunity to plead not guilty in court and seek a trial by jury. If you are acquitted we will report that. If you want to correct the record you are free to comment here as you already have done. As for your legal threats against this site, trying running a Google search on me and see if you see any reason I would be the least bit intimidated by this sort of bluster. As you will quickly find, I am well familiar with media liability law and you have absolutely zero chance of successfully bring a case against me or Talk of the Sound.

The law hasn't caught up with the "blogging community" yet, so you probably won't have a case...no matter what the truth is. The internet and "blogging" such as this site, is like the "wild west". You can say anything you want without fear of retribution. Hopefully, someday soon, allegations without verifiable fact will be seen as lible.
Mr. DeRaffele, FWIW, don't waste your time here defending yourself. Save your case for court, don't give them the advantage to know your defense.
Also, I find it highly irresponsible of the other author to equate your case to your business of building diners.

Robert Cox's picture

The laws of defamation, privacy and copyright all continue to exist. The issue is not that the above article appeared on the web site but that there is no basis for bringing a defamation case against a media outlet and/or a particular writer or speaker for accurately reporting the contents of an official government report. It is reasonable for Talk of the Sound to believe that the official government report on the incident at 867 Weaver is accurate.

I do not fear litigation because I believe the article is true and have good reason for believing that to be the case. West, East, South or North, a primary grounds for a defamation case would be publishing knowingly false and malicious statements. I do not know that the report is false and having never even met any of the people residing at 867 Weaver I have no reason to feel any particular way about any of them.

I do agree that it was foolish of Mr. DeRaffele to publishing his remarks here when he has a date in New Rochelle City Court on Friday but it is just such foolishness that makes the world go around He is more than welcome to make a fool of himself here any time.

We will certainly follow up on this matter and look forward to reporting the outcome of any jury trial.

Robert Cox's picture

I created this course in my role as President of the Media Bloggers Association, brining in folks from Harvard Law School, CUNY J School and a major insurance company that specializes in media liability insurance.

It takes about an hour and will cover all the key points regarding defamation, privacy and copyright/trademark.

Does the course cover liability, or reponsibility, in publishing facts, based on facts? In other words, not basing an entire story on "sources" such as Det. Buono being a relative of Anthony Bongo, which, btw, ran for a year or so??? And yes, I know you printed a retraction in that case only after being informed, directly from the source of its inaccuracies. But that doesn't always make things right IMO.
I will concede the laws for defamation, privacy and copyright etc. I really never had a problem with those issues on TOTS. Just asking.

Robert Cox's picture

just kidding.

I know you are not interested in the course just trying to take a shot at me and this site.

I've been doing this for going on ten years and since 2008 in New Rochelle. You are not going to find an example of me PURPOSELY publishing something I know to be false.

You will find examples of my making an error but right beside it you will find me acknowledging the error and correcting the record. I also have open registration so anyone can sign up and correct the record for me.

As for correcting the Buono error, no one felt worse than me because we all know being publicly associated with Anthony Bongo IS defamatory by definition. Bongo is someone who breaks the law, lies about it and thinks its a big joke. Buono is a cop doing his job. It is for this reason that I made an extra effort to correct the record in as high profile a way as I could -- in one of the biggest story of the year on this site, the Kevin Williams murder which we broke here and for which we got a lot of attention.

I could have just as easily run a correction on bottom of page 72 and called that good enough.

What you are talking about is a little different in that there have been a few times when a source turned out not to be right or not to have command of all the facts (Buono, the Ursuline ring day incident). I do accept the blame for that and did so publicly on the site. As a reporter you develop sources, you do your best to evaluate the information and run the story when you believe you have the right information. I also think that there were a few times I was too willing to accept what I was told. I believe I have learned from that and think I do a pretty good job of patiently FOILing for records, interviewing additional sources and otherwise doing my homework.

Does that mean I will never make an error? No. I am sure I will as it is the nature of reporting. Will I ever try to make excuses or blame someone for my error. No. Many reporters and editors and publishers in traditional media are afraid to admit an error. They have lawyers worrying about it even more.

I am not afraid of admitting to making a mistake for a very simple reason. If I make a mistake it may be an error but it will always be an honest error. By admitting to the error and always be willing to be called out I believe readers trust that more than someone who tries to pretend they are always perfect.

The issue is not so much never making an error ever but being willing to suck it up and admit to one. It may not be the case with you -- and this is not really directed at you in that you are just here to take pot shots -- but I believe the most people have more respect for someone who tries real hard, comes up short occasionally but admits and promises to work even harder. I have tried to do that and I think my track record here supports that.

One final thought, in taking the decision in 2008 to launch this site and report information that the subjects did not want reported, I was well aware of the nature of the response I would get from entrenched power. I have been running sites like this since 2002 and have have had far worse abuse heaped on my in my national political and media blogs or in my work helping to defend bloggers in defamation, privacy and copyright lawsuits. When you have had The New York Times, AP, CNN or major political figures, heads of state governments, large law firms coming after you as I have then a few local political flunkies or apologists for corruption municipal or school district workers are small potatoes. Heck, I was misquoted THREE times on the front page of the New York Times (above the fold) on a single day!

Again, making a mistake is the real issue, that's inevitable for everyone, it is how you respond when you make a mistake -- cover it up or own it. I prefer to own it.

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