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Electrical nightmares, high taxes and illegal apartments costs us all

Ray Wilson's picture
Home Electrical Issues

Because us Long Islanders live in one of the most highly taxed areas on planet earth, some of us resort to converting garages and basements into illegal apartments. While I see this all the time, the term "illegal apartment' never appears in my inspection report.

This hurts us all as far as revenue that never makes it to our local and Federal tax base. I am far from pro-government, but I have to pay taxes and I don't have a tax free income stream from an illegal apartment. I know people and I have friends that have done it, but luckily I never had to do it to pay the bills or make the mortgage.

But what I do care about is the safety of such dwellings as it relates to my business and my clients purchase.

I have blogged on electrical issues probably more than any other issue, mainly because I see so much poor, and downright dangerous electrical work. For example, I did an inspection in Coram NY the other day, and there was a garage that was converted into an illegal apartment with a separate entrance, a small kitchen, and bathroom. The basement was also partially converted into living space, but this was not a rented apartment.

When I opened up the electrical panel, I found all the circuit breakers had been replaced with twin circuit breakers. This gives you two circuit breakers where only one previously existed. You are allowed to install twin circuit breakers, but you cannot 'twin-out' a whole box like what was done here. I started to add up all the circuits that were present, but stopped counting once I reached 400 amps worth of breakers. 400 amps and still counting. Two electric stoves. As the Monty Python guys say - "Runaway!"

The seller's husband did the work, and didn't live there anymore (I guess their relationship fizzled or he was trying to bump her off?), but the lady of the house was surely not pleased about hearing the news.

Under normal circumstances with her and one teenager living there, it probably never would have caused breakers to trip, but if the house had a normal size family that used computers, hair dryers, washer/dryers, etc, there is a good chance breakers would start to go snap, crackle and POP.

Now when the appraiser shows up for the bank, this illegal apartment thing might cause a bump in the road, so it will get found out eventually. But for the buyers, this was not good news because they see the cost of a service upgrade in their future. If all the added, non-original circuits were removed, the service would not need to be upgraded. But the buyers want the apartment, and want to rent it to help pay the mortgage.

The good thing is they are now informed. I told them this is repairable, and it should not cause them to walk away from the purchase, but I do know the banks are sometimes quite difficult to deal with these days, and they will not likelypermit the illegal apartment.

This is one of the many reasons homeowners should not be doing electrical work.

Ray Wilson, president of Meticulous Home Inspection Corp. would be happy to answer any of your questions related to this blog, or inspection in general. Please call 631-902-6761 or see


Very true & accurate - not to mention the local authority, town or county, requiring the initial work to be ripped out & re-done to code with permits & penalties

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