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No Landlords Fined in Airbnb Hot Spot Since City Crackdown Began

By Gwynne Hogan | May 12, 2017 11:10am
 Sixteen landlords face $284,000 in fines for advertising short-term rentals.
Sixteen landlords face $284,000 in fines for advertising short-term rentals.
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EAST WILLIAMSBURG — Not a single East Williamsburg landlord has been fined by the city during three months of enforcement of a new law to crack down on illegal hotel operators, despite earlier estimates that more short-term rentals were located there than any other  neighborhood.

Officials have targeted 16 landlords in other parts of the city, slapping them with $284,000 worth of summonses since the end of January, when the state law — which makes advertising short-term apartment rentals online illegal — went into effect, data obtained from the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement shows.

But none were in East Williamsburg, though the neighborhood was estimated to have the most short-term apartment rentals listed on Airbnb.

"This is likely a lack of enforcement," said neighborhood City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who has been a vocal critic of Airbnb and other housing share sites that allow people to rent out full apartments for less than 30 days, which is illegal in New York City.

"They make property in Williamsburg so rare that they raise the market value on everything around them," he said, adding he'll ask the city to take a closer look at East Williamsburg and North Brooklyn in general, where not a single landlord was fined in the three months since the law has been in effect.

"It makes my district unlivable for many families," he added.

The East Williamsburg zip code of 11211 was estimated to have the most short-term apartment rentals listed on Airbnb, with 314 apartments for rent based on analysis conducted last year by ValuePenguin, a personal finance website.

They estimated that landlords in East Williamsburg could face $2.3 million in fines when the new state law went into effect.

Under the state law, landlords can be fined for each individual apartment listed and are charged $1,000 on the first offense and $5,000 if they're caught listing the same apartment again, according to the city.

Melissa Grace, a spokeswoman for the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement, said their efforts are focused on commercial and dangerous landlords.

"We have issued more than $280,000 in fines in three months under a tough new state law, and won’t hesitate to continue protecting New York City’s housing stock,” she said.

Just two landlords have been find in the whole borough of Brooklyn.

The bulk of all the fines and violations issued by the city have gone to one single Upper West Side hotelier, who the city says is illegally renting out rooms in the Single Room Occupancy buildings for transient use.

Hank Freid, who owns three hotels within a few blocks of one another — a "Moroccan inspired boutique hotel" called the Marrakech Hotel, the Royal Park Hotel and the Broadway Hotel & Hostel — has been fined a combined $234,000 for 89 different violations, records show.

"It's been hampering and interfering with his business," said Ronald Rosenberg, an attorney for Freid, who argued that short-term use is permitted in the three buildings and called them "totally legal."

They are contesting the summonses through the City's Office for Trials and Administrative Hearings, and a judge already ruled in their favor and dismissed the violations on one of the properties, he said.

Upper West Side Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, whose office flagged some of Freid's hotels to the city, said she was thankful that the state law was being enforced in her district.

"These are rooms that should have permanent tenants in them," she said. "One piece of the affordable housing pie is landlords who do just this with their [Single Room Occupancy] and illegally rent out the room at a higher rate hypothetically than what they would get if it were a permanent tenant."

According to the city, 10 of the 16 landlords fined in the first three months of the law were caught listing their apartments on Airbnb, who'd earlier sued to block the law from taking effect in October, but later dropped the lawsuit.

"The decision to regulate home sharing by type of building is flawed and unfairly targets working New Yorkers," said Peter Schottenfels, a spokesman for Airbnb. "We support a common sense solution that cracks down on bad actors and guarantees safe environments for guests and hosts."

Here's a list of who is facing fines under the state's new law that makes it illegal to advertise short-term rentals online.