Illegal Boarding Houses—Know Your Rights!

New DHS Rule Prohibiting Referrals to Unsafe Housing

Effective July 1, 2010, DHS implemented new guidelines protecting clients from referrals to unsafe and illegal boarding houses, also known as ¾ houses. The new rules will prohibit City shelters from referring adults to buildings that have 1 or more occupancy-related violations in the last 2 years. These violations are documented on the Department of Buildings website.

Additionally, DHS also implemented a pilot project in nine shelters in which referrals will be prohibited to buildings under six units if they have one or more complaints regarding occupancy in the last four years, including complaints in which DOB was denied access the building. This stricter pilot project is a result of a loophole in the larger rule regarding DOB's access to buildings: many illegal boarding house operators do not allow City inspectors access to their buildings, thus prohibiting DOB and other agencies from issuing any violations against a property.

The text of the rule and pilot can be found here. Further background on the new rule can be read here.


What is illegal housing? (sometimes called 3/4 housing or transitional housing)

  • A 3/4 house is typically a 1 or 2-family home which houses more than one person per room, usually by packing individual rooms with bunk beds.
  • These houses offer no secure place to lock up personal belongings, often have poor living conditions, unsafe overcrowding, and in many cases do not provide a valid lease.
  • Very often, 3/4 houses do not provide any social services even though they may house individuals with substance abuse and/or mental health problems.
  • Read our report on 3/4 house conditions: Warehousing the Homeless
  • See the following news articles for more information: NY1: Brooklyn Man Exposes Illegal Shelter; NY1: Illegal Shelters Follow Up


Are 3/4 Houses Safe?

  • 3/4 houses are notorious for violating occupancy codes and failing to comply with fire safety regulations.
  • Dozens of 3/4 houses have been ordered vacated by the City over the past few years for severe fire safety and housing code violations.
  • Dozens of shelter residents who have been moved to 3/4 houses have been forced to return to shelter.


Can a shelter force me to accept a 3/4 house placement?

  • You cannot be forced/coerced/or threatened to accept a placement in a 3/4 house.
  • You cannot be kicked out of shelter for refusing to accept a 3/4 house.
  • If you are offered a 3/4 house placement: (1) Go see it. (2) Document what you see and get the address. (3) If it is unsuitable or unsafe, you have a right to refuse it.


Steps you can take:

Check a building's occupancy code and check for violations on the NYC Department of Buildings website or the NYC Housing Preservation and Development website

If you need help refusing a 3/4 house placement, come to our Crisis Intervention Program 

To report a referral to a 3/4 house from a shelter, please call Giselle at 212-776-2005