Being John Malkovich

NYC Department of Buildings fines owner who split two condo into 20 apartments

Left, a DOB inspector on their knees in an offending unit. Right, numerous air conditioners sticking out of the windows at 165 Henry Street. (Courtesy the DOB, Google Maps)

This week, the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) busted a Lower East Side landlord who had divided part of a building into hobbit-like warrens with ceilings as low as four-and-a-half–feet.

Owner Xue Ping Ni subdivided his 634-square-foot condo on the fourth floor of 165 Henry Street into 11 tiny units by splitting the space with a new floor. DOB photos show a male inspector kneeling beside one lilliputian door, his head just below the top of the frame. The illegal units, home to nine people at inspection time, were climate-controlled with double-stacked window-mounted air conditioners. It almost goes without saying that the SROs lacked adequate egresses as well.

During a later visit, a reporter noticed from the street that the air conditioners in the windows on the floor above were installed in a similar pattern. When inspectors entered the fifth-floor apartment, they found another nine diminutive single room occupancy units that looked like those in the first apartment.

All tenants in the micro micro-units were evacuated. According to one, the closet-sized dwellings rented for $600 per month.

The New York Post reported that the DOB slapped Ni with over $144,000 in fines for the sprinkler-less rooms and a lack of permits for plumbing, electrical, and structural work.

According to paperwork on file with the DOB, the five-story building is supposed to have just 27 apartments.

Councilmember Ben Kallos likened the firetrap half floors to the 1999 film Being John Malkovich where John Cusack’s character takes a job at Lester Corp, which is on the short-ceilinged seven-and-a-half floor of an office building in Manhattan. (Kallos does not represent the district that includes the building in question)

“It was funny in fiction, but a horror story in real life,” he told the Post.

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