Three people have attempted to pay with fake hundreds at City Wings Café

Oct2 City WingsBy Sabina Mollot

City Wings Café, a new restaurant across from Peter Cooper Village, has a message for customers who’ve been attempting to pay for their food with counterfeit bills:

The fake buck stops here.

Will Hsu, the manager at City Wings, said that at least three different people (two men and one woman) have come in for the past three Sunday afternoons trying to pass off fake Benjamins as the real deal when purchasing small items like sodas. The phony customers have come in at especially busy times but still got caught since Hsu has to personally approve purchases made with large bills.

What’s caught his attention is that these bills look completely legit, passing the ink pen test. However, they flunk the smell test when the security line, a strip down the middle of new bills that’s supposed to be strong, has ripped easily each time.

When Hsu confronted the fraudsters, “they play dumb. ‘Oh, I’ll be back with another bill.’ They’re not coming back.”

And since the M.O. has remained completely the same, he believes the incidents are connected with a group of people involved. Hsu doesn’t remember much about how the suspects look, other than they are in their late 20s or early 30s, black and “very clean, legit, regular people. They order something small, like two sodas, something under five dollars.”

On Tuesday, Hsu put up a sign on City Wings’ door, warning would-be fraudsters that the next time a bill is suspected of being fake, police will be called. He also said it’s a heads-up for the other restaurants in the neighborhood.

Yves Jadot, one of the owners of the restaurants Petite Abeille and Vamos, which are across the street from City Wings on First Avenue, said he was not aware of anyone coming in recently attempting to pay with fake hundreds. Rather, it’s simply a problem his restaurants deal with from time to time. More often people will attempt to pay with fake twenties since it’s known employees check the hundreds.

“When someone buys a coffee with a hundred it’s a red flag,” said Jadot.

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Teen from Riis Houses found

Jemancey Vadon

Jemancey Vadon

An Alphabet City teen who’d been missing since Friday, September 19, has since been found and is in good health, police said.

An announcement was emailed by police after midnight on Tuesday.

Last week, a missing person alert was put put for fourteen-year-old Jamancey Vadon of Riis Houses on Avenue D.

Art in Odd Places returns for 10th year

By Sabina Mollot

An app of an alternate reality on 14th Street, created by John Craig Freeman, will be one of the featured works in the annual Art in Odd Places festival, running from October 9-12. (Photo courtesy of John Craig Freeman) An app of an alternate reality on 14th Street, created by John Craig Freeman, will be one of the featured works in AiOP. (Photo courtesy of John Craig Freeman)

An app of an alternate reality on 14th Street, created by John Craig Freeman, will be one of the featured works in AiOP. (Photo courtesy of John Craig Freeman)

Art in Odd Places, the annual art festival that’s been known to take over the length of 14th Street with site specific installations and performances, is returning soon for the 10th time.

This time, the event has been shortened to four days (it’s normally a week or longer), which, AiOP founder Ed Woodham said was to make it more concentrated so no one can miss it.

“The majority of the audience is people who come across it unexpectedly,” Woodham said. “It’s one of those magic New York moments.”

The event will run from October 9 to 12 along 14th Street from Avenue C to the Hudson River, with the kickoff celebration on Friday, October 10 from 6-9 p.m. at the entrance of Campos Plaza (on 14th Street between Avenues B and C). There will also be a few installations in other locations throughout the city, dubbed by organizers as “free agents.”

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The national football disgrace

Submitted by Former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

The lid on the National Football League (NFL) has been lifted and the picture is not pretty…nor should it be surprising. We now discover that numerous players are facing charges of battery, domestic abuse and even murder. Former New England Patriot star Aaron Hernandez sits in a Massachusetts lock up charged with homicide and suspected of other killings. A number of elite players are facing accusations of wife beating and child abuse.

We should not be shocked, but we should be appalled! It now seems quite obvious that authorities in the highest echelons of the NFL for years turned a blind eye to what was common knowledge that some or even many of its players were engaged in violence away from the stadiums and playing fields. One of its elite quarterbacks went to prison a few years ago for extreme animal cruelty, but is now welcomed back into the ranks of the League and right here in New York.

We should not be at all shocked at this spasm of violent behavior because football at the scholastic and professional levels has become the essence of condoned violence. Young men are taught and rewarded for their roughness and aggression and are even encouraged to inflict pain and punishment on their opponents. In the professional ranks, they are paid millions of dollars and celebrated for their physicality.

In short, those who are interested in a football career are instructed from the very beginning that extreme rough play is not only ok, but it is essential to success. Long gone are the days when the tools of football were athletic passing, catching and running as well as blocking and tackling. Those skills and abilities have been largely replaced with brutality and collision. The number of serious injuries on the field including concussions and broken bones increase each year. So why should anyone be surprised that those combative tendencies honed in these young men, fueled at times with steroids or other high potency performance “supplements”, have also been responsible for off field violence?

Players have been prodded towards aggression as a means for success. They should know the difference between a football game and life, but sadly many do not.

We should be disgusted not only by this thuggish behavior by the players but also by those coaches in high School, college and professional ranks who encourage and even insist upon this kind of intimidating play. For these adults who instruct their players to engage in such aggressive and dangerous conduct, our strong condemnation must be voiced. They are as responsible for the off field violence as the individual players themselves. These coaches are supposed to be educators and responsible mentors and should know better. But winning a game by any means necessary has replaced the sense of sportsmanship that athletics used to embody. No more. It is all about winning and the fame and riches that goes with it.

It is really too bad because the glory and joy of playing and competing in sports has been usurped for a much lower form of gratification. We are all injured and diminished because of that.

Harvest in the Square raises $334,000 for park

Breads Bakery at Harvest in the Square (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Breads Bakery at Harvest in the Square (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Community residents and local restaurateurs came out in full force last Thursday night to celebrate the impending arrival of fall at Union Square’s 19th annual Harvest in the Square event.

The food tasting festival raised $334,000 and Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, said that she will be speaking with the Parks Department soon to discuss goals for the coming year and determine how the money will be spent. Tickets were $125 and $400 for early VIP entry.

Danny Meyer of the Union Square Cafe and Eric Petterson from The Coffee Shop are the founding members of the event and have been participating every year. Other returning participants included the Union Square Whole Foods, Blue Water Grill, Rosa Mexicano, Almond, Blue Smoke and others, with nearly 50 local restaurants in all. Some new restaurants participating in the event for the first time included The Pavilion, All’onda, The Gander, Cevich, 201 Bar and Restaurant and Botequim.

Richard and Kamille Serna, residents of the Financial District, are in the area frequently because they manage a building on 15th Street. Although they’ve been working in the area for a while, this was the first chance they got to partake in Harvest in the Square.

Kamille said they were impressed with what they tried so far but were particularly looking forward to sampling what Blue Water Grill had to offer. The Union Square restaurant’s Executive chef Luis Jaramillo was serving Maine lobster deviled eggs with tarragon.

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Peter Cooper buildings get new video intercoms

By Sabina Mollot

In recent weeks, residents in Peter Cooper Village have either seen new video intercom systems installed in their buildings or received notice that the work will begin soon. Although a bunch of buildings have had the project completed already, management’s been mostly mum on the issue, declining to discuss the intercoms themselves.

However, at least one PCV resident gave T&V a review of the new product, saying he liked the old system better. Because, explained Council Member Dan Garodnick, the intercom that was recently installed in his apartment can only be used by the front door.

“I don’t like it as much as I like being able to pick up my phone wherever I am in my apartment to let someone in the door,” said Garodnick. “With two little kids running around, I like being able to pick up the cordless phone wherever I am.”

Another resident in a building that had recently gotten a notice that work would soon begin said residents still haven’t been told what day the project would start. She added that she and neighbors wanted to know since the installation requires worker access to individual apartments.

Last week, T&V asked management about dates and on Friday, Brian Moriarty, a rep for CWCapital, said tenants would receive at minimum five business days notice before work begins at their buildings. “Management will post an initial notice indicating the commencement of work in the common areas and will provide a subsequent notice in advance of the apartment installation that includes the date of installation and contact information to ask follow up questions,” Moriarty said.

The intercoms were installed first, last year, at a couple of buildings that were Sandy damaged. A resident at 7 Peter Cooper Road said overall the new intercom works well, though, thanks to the screen, everyone at the door appears to have a huge nose.

Another resident at 8 Peter Cooper Road said the intercoms are hard to use because it takes a while to scroll to find the person’s name. “You have to be a rocket scientist and delivery people don’t want to spend the time,” he said.

As to whether or not the work will mean another major capital improvement increase (MCI) for tenants, there’s no way to know for sure until an application is filed with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). However, residents have gotten MCIs for intercoms in the past.

The Tenants Association said this week that it is looking into the possibility.

“We acknowledge tenants’ concerns about the new intercoms, the quality of their installation, and whether they will be subject to an MCI,” said TA Chair Susan Steinberg.

Meanwhile, the TA has also been attempting to figure out its next steps with regards to two MCIs that it had been attempting to fight through the DHCR. The DHCR had recently rejected the TA’s arguments against the MCIs, which were for roof and elevator work in Stuyvesant Town. As a result, retroactive portions of those MCIs are now collectible.

“The Tenants Association and its attorney are evaluating the DHCR decisions and are concerned about what could be procedural irregularities,” Steinberg told T&V. “We hope to have more information soon.”

Letters to the editor, Sept. 25

Conversion would allow NYU tenants to buy

To the Editor,

A letter in your Sept. 18 edition says conversion of PCVST to condos can serve to end dormitory living here by NYU undergraduates. The opposite could happen. In a conversion, existing leaseholders have the right of first refusal to buy the apartments they are leasing.

If NYU holds leases on the apartments occupied by students, NYU would have the right to buy those apartments in a conversion.  Also, NYU would be able to buy any apartments not purchased by other leaseholders. NYU obviously needs student housing in this area. A conversion could result in an increase in the number of apartments occupied by undergraduate students.

There are efforts to keep, or make, PCVST affordable housing. That’s consistent with having undergraduate students as neighbors. Students need affordable housing. NYU undergraduates will disappear from PCVST when NYU builds more dormitories, or when rents rise to a level where the owner finds it more attractive to rent to someone other than students.

Another letter in the same issue wonders what happened to the concept of converting PCVST to condominiums. The beginning point of a conversion is either a purchase of PCVST by a new owner who will pursue conversion, or a decision by the present owner to do a conversion. If the property isn’t for sale, there can’t be a new owner.  So the basic question is: How likely is it that the existing owner will sell, or convert, the property?

PCVST was built and owned by MetLife as an income producing property, because MetLife wanted a reliable source of income. When MetLife sold the property, the largest source of financing for the buyer was first mortgage bonds purchased by large institutions. They bought those bonds, because they wanted a reliable source of income, and the bonds provided that.

When the owners of the bonds took over ownership of PCVST, they acquired a property that provides the reliable source of income they want. Ownership of PCVST meets their investment objective.

The amount of income the owners can earn from the property is limited by rent stabilization, until the low interest rate J-51 financing on the property matures in June 2020 (or earlier if the J-51 financing is prepaid).  Then apartments can move to market rents as provided by New York law. Thus, in six years the owners will be able to start increasing their rental income.

The owners are large, deep pocket, institutions.  For them, six years is a reasonable wait.

As the total rental income increases, the value of the PCVST will increase. The increase in rental income will occur gradually over a considerable number of years, and the property’s value will continue to rise during those years. At some point, the owners may want to cash out, either by sale or conversion. But right now the property is meeting the owners’ investment objectives, and future of the property is positive. It will be a lot of years before the present owners sell or convert.

Floyd Smith, PCV

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Police Watch: Assault in Stuy Town apt., man arrested for cell phone thefts

FOURTH PERSON WANTED IN CREMA ROBBERY
Town & Village reported last week of a robbery that took place at Crema Restaurant inside of 111 West 17th Street on September 12. Three Hispanic men in masks reportedly stole a cash register from the restaurant and threatened employees with a machete. The NYPD noted last Saturday that additional surveillance video has revealed that shows the suspects walking to and leaving the location, and also showed a fourth suspect who was acting as a lookout for the other three and never entered the restaurant.

BUFFALO EXCHANGE ‘ROBBER’ ARMED WITH SCISSORS
Police arrested 35-year-old Terrance Avery for robbery outside Buffalo Exchange at 114 West 26th Street last Monday at 6:53 p.m. Store security saw Avery allegedly removing property from the store and placing it into a large black luggage bag. When security approached him and began to recover the merchandise, police said that Avery pulled out a pair of scissors and pointed them in the faces of three employees in a threatening manner. He allegedly told them, “You’re gonna stop! You’re making me angry!” He then fled the store with his loot, police said, but was stopped by officers in front of the store who also took away his scissors.

MAN NABBED FOR ‘BAIL JUMPING’
Herbert Washington, 61, was arrested for bail jumping last Tuesday at 4:23 p.m. at the corner of Park Avenue South and East 18th Street. He was also charged with possession of burglar’s tools, petit larceny, theft, resisting arrest and impersonation of a public servant. Washington and another man who wasn’t arrested were allegedly casing a number of businesses. An officer first approached the man who wasn’t arrested, who said, “It’s the other guy.”
When the officer approached Washington, he allegedly put stolen property into a large bag that was on the street median. Washington began to yell, “It’s not me, I didn’t take anything.” He allegedly ran in a circle and tried to knock the officer over while he was trying to arrest Washington. The officer asked passersby to call 911 for assistance and Washington allegedly gave false information about his identity when the officer asked. He was also in possession of a long metal spike commonly used to remove theft deterrent devices, police said.

WOMAN ARRESTED FOR ‘ASSAULT’ IN STUY TOWN APT.
Police arrested 59-year-old Stephanie Mercado, a Stuyvesant Town resident, for assault last Wednesday at 4:23 p.m. inside 1 Stuyvesant Oval. The victim, a home attendant, was caring for Mercado’s mother when the two got into an argument. The argument escalated and Mercado allegedly punched the attendant in the chest.

MAN NABBED FOR ASSAULT AT L TRAIN STATION
Police arrested 35-year-old Pedro Martinez for assault at the First Avenue L station last Sunday at 1:30 a.m. Martinez was on a Brooklyn-bound L train and allegedly punched another man in the face and back of the head. The blows caused substantial pain, bruising and swelling, as well as a small cut on the victim’s left cheek.

TRESPASSERS BUSTED ON EAST 15TH
Thirty-year-old Andrew Bell and 25-year-old Evan Brauer were arrested for criminal trespassing at 101 East 15th Street last Thursday at 7:11 a.m. Bell and Brauer were allegedly inside an area where there are signs clearly posted that say “Area is closed, no trespassing.” Brauer was also charged with possession of a controlled substance and allegedly had a ziplock bag with marijuana and a pillbox with tablets of controlled substances in his pants pocket.

DRUG ARRESTS ON EAST 23RD
Two people involved in a drug deal were arrested in front of 10 East 23rd Street last Thursday at 9:59 a.m. Unice Jinks, 42, was arrested for sale of a controlled substance and allegedly exchanged money with Thomas Cargill, 53, for a controlled substance. Cargill was arrested for possession of a controlled substance.

ASSAULT AT PRINCE GEORGE
Police arrested Christopher Wallace for assault in front of The Prince George at 14 East 28th Street last Thursday at 9:12 p.m. Wallace allegedly punched the victim in the nose after the two spoke for a few minutes, causing minor bleeding and soreness.

FRAUDULENT CHECK AT CITIBANK
Police arrested Khiratullah Abdul-Haqq for grand larceny inside the Citibank at 115 East 23rd Street last Friday at 12:04 p.m. Abdul-Haqq allegedly walked into the location and attempted to deposit a fraudulent check of $4,120.24. The victim told police that he doesn’t know Abdul-Haqq and he did not issue the check.

PHONE THEFT AT UNION SQUARE BALLROOM
Police arrested 27-year-old Elmer Quituizaca for petit larceny in the Union Square Ballroom at 27 Union Square West last Friday at 7:20 p.m. Quituizaca allegedly removed a cell phone from the bar top without permission and was seen in possession of the phone by the store manager and on video surveillance, police said.

MAN ARRESTED FOR MULTIPLE CELL PHONE THEFTS
Police arrested 49-year-old Dominic Quintero inside the 13th Precinct at 230 East 21st Street for petit larceny last Friday at 9:33 p.m. Quintero had allegedly stolen a cell phone from the bar area of Heartland Brewery at 35 Union Square West on a previous date. Quintero was arrested for petit larceny again  on Saturday at 1:15 p.m.  for allegedly stealing cell phones from Obica Mozzarella Bar at 928 Broadway and Punch Restaurant at 913 Broadway.

MAN ARRESTED FOR STAPLES SHOPLIFTING
Police arrested Melshawn Davis, 35, for petit larceny last Friday at 8:53 p.m. inside the Staples at 5 Union Square West. Davis allegedly walked into the store, took a backpack from the shelf and started putting phone cases into the bag. The manager said that the phone cases were recovered but then realized that the backpack was still on his back. Davis allegedly became “irate” but was arrested soon after.

MAN ARRESTED FOR ‘GOING POSTAL’
Thirty-three-year-old Michael Ratcliff was arrested for assault in front of a Holiday Inn at 125 West 26th Street last Sunday at 4:12 a.m. Ratcliff got into an argument with someone else and allegedly threw a postal container at him, hitting the victim in the face and causing a cut. The victim was taken to Bellevue Hospital.

MAN ARRESTED IN FIGHT ON MADISON
Police arrested Christophe Villacis, 24, for assault last Sunday at 7:05 a.m. at the corner of Madison Avenue and East 26th Street. Villacis and the victim got into an argument and Villacis allegedly punched the victim on the left side of his head, causing swelling and a cut.

MEN ARRESTED FOR SLEEPING UNDER CARDBOARD BOXES
Police arrested three people for violating unclassified New York State laws last Tuesday. The men were allegedly sleeping on public sidewalks inside cardboard boxes that were covering their bodies.
Ernesto Zayas, 34, was arrested in front of 101 East 15th Street at  6:57 a.m.
Eighteen-year-old Christian Tuyishime and Christopher Becerra, 25, were arrested in front of 220 Fifth Avenue at  7:28 a.m.  and both were also allegedly in possession of marijuana.

ID theft is common type of larceny in 13th Precinct

Deputy Inspector David Ehrenberg gives the latest local crime stats at Tuesday’s 13th Precinct Community Council meeting. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Deputy Inspector David Ehrenberg gives the latest local crime stats at Tuesday’s 13th Precinct Community Council meeting. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

In the first 13th precinct community council meeting after the summer break, the precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector David Ehrenberg reported that after a mostly uneventful season, crime is up 5.2 percent this month. However, he added that crime is down for the year overall.

Grand larcenies, traditionally a problem for this area, were up this month but are also down 7 percent for the year and decreased during the summer, Ehrenberg said.

Identity theft is the most common type of grand larceny and the deputy inspector noted that the precinct is still having problems with thieves stealing debit card information with card scanners taped over ATMs.

When a resident at the meeting inquired about the bank’s awareness of the problem in their own ATMs, Ehrenberg added that they weren’t necessarily at fault for missing it.

“The skimmers are only on the ATM for a very short period of time, for about an hour,” he said. “They’re usually put on later in the evening after the bank was closed already so they wouldn’t always notice.”

Ehrenberg emphasized that residents should call 911 when they encounter one of these skimmers, which are easily recognizable because they are flimsy and attached with double-sided tape.

Felony assaults have also been a problem this summer but Ehrenberg noted that in most cases, the fights involved people that knew each other. The increases are also due to assaults of EMTs at Bellevue and the shelters in the area. Grand larceny auto is also up, with nine cars being stolen within the precinct this month, compared to six that had been stolen by the same point last year. Ehrenberg noted that there seems to be a trend there and that it’s mostly rental cars that are getting swiped.

“There’s a way they can overcome the security system that Zipcar uses,” he said. “There’s another way they can use the device to get in and steal the cars. It’s a popular system and it’s going to take them a while to change it, so we’re seeing an increase in that in the command.”

He added that residents don’t have to worry so much about a car they have rented being stolen because most of these incidents have occurred in the locations where the cars are picked up.

As in the past, grand larceny of unattended property continues to be a problem for the precinct.

“There are still a lot of laptops being left in restaurants and coffee shops. You’re not going to leave $2,000 in cash just sitting there, so don’t leave your laptop,” Ehrenberg warned.

Residents at the meeting were curious about the impact of the mayor’s Vision Zero plan, which was introduced over the summer. Captain Steven Hellman noted that since Mayor de Blasio has been in office, the precinct has seen decreases in collisions this summer. There is currently an arterial slow zone on Seventh Avenue and Sixth Avenue will be a slow zone this December.

As in most community council meetings in the past, residents also expressed their frustrations about cyclists who don’t follow the rules of the road, often riding on sidewalks and without lights at night.

One Stuyvesant Town resident said that he’s been seeing delivery people riding their bikes recklessly near his building at 21 Stuyvesant Oval.

“You’re going to find a body in 20 different pieces due to these bicyclists,” the resident said. “They’re like kamikazes coming around the curve behind 21 Oval. Someone is going to get killed on the bottom of the hill. Pedestrians are getting less safe.“

Police Officer John Sedita said that the NYPD has a good relationship with Stuyvesant Town’s Public Safety officers and would talk to them about the issue. Another resident, though, had a suggestion for those two-wheeled officers as well.

“Remind Stuy Town security that they need lights on their bikes, too,” the resident, who didn’t want to be identified, said at the meeting.

Teen from Riis Houses missing

Jemancey Vadon

Jemancey Vadon

Police are looking for an Alphabet City teen who’s been missing since Friday.

Fourteen-year-old Jamancey Vadon was last seen at home at Riis Houses building 90 Avenue D at around 11:30 p.m.

He is described as being black, approximately 5’6″ tall, weighing 115 lbs. With a thin build and black hair.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at nypdcrimestoppers.com or by texting tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.

Crowds head out for Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood

Farm 2 Me

Farm 2 Me at Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood

By Sabina Mollot

On Saturday, Gramercy residents and foodies got to sample dishes from over 20 local restaurants, which were all participating in the second Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood event.

The outdoor food tasting event and fundraiser for the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates took place along one block on Irving Place with plenty of foot traffic despite some rain later on.

Tickets ranged from $30-$80 in price with the proceeds going to two local schools: PS 40 and School of the Future.

Terry Dougherty, a longtime Gramercy resident, was one of those who’d gotten a ticket.

“It seemed successful last year and it’s something I look forward to,” he said. “I enjoy all kinds of things that promote businesses.”

Another guest was Larry Oberfeld, who lives on the Upper East Side.

“It’s a nice way to sample all the different restaurants in the neighborhood,” said Oberfeld. “It’s a different thing to do when the weather’s nice.”

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DSNY trying to move forward with sanitation garage project

 

Hunter College’s Brookdale Campus, site of the proposed sanitation garage (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Hunter College’s Brookdale Campus, site of the proposed sanitation garage (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

In their recent monthly meeting on September 10, Community Board 6’s Land Use and Waterfront committee members were blindsided by news that the city is trying to move forward with the plan for a sanitation garage that has been proposed for East 25th Street and First Avenue, in the middle of what is known as Bedpan Alley.

Community members and local elected officials have been fighting against the plan since it was announced by the Department of Sanitation the end of 2012 and although former Mayor Bloomberg seemed intent on pushing the proposal through before he left office, it has mostly been on hold since the change of administration.

However, that hiatus is seemingly over, as committee chair Terry O’Neal announced that the department has aggressively been trying to put the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) proceeding through to assess the area’s land use and even tried to get it done during the community board’s summer recess.

He noted that DSNY had informed local elected officials during the summer that they would be submitting two ULURPs and are attempting to submit them by the end of this month. The area on which DSNY is attempting to build the garage is not currently zoned for industrial use and if the ULURP goes through, the city will have one less obstacle for the proposal.

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Pols: Airbnb an illegal hotel operator

Borough President Gale Brewer, along with other elected officials including Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, Council Member Dan Garodnick, State Senator Brad Hoylman and State Senator Liz Krueger in front of City Hall (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Borough President Gale Brewer, along with other elected officials including Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, Council Member Dan Garodnick, State Senator Brad Hoylman and State Senator Liz Krueger in front of City Hall (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Friday, over a dozen elected officials and housing advocates gathered at City Hall to blast Airbnb, the home-sharing listing website that’s being investigated by the attorney general, as having become the city’s largest illegal hotel operator. The popular service, which allows users to list their apartments for short term stays, has become the bane of the hotel industry as well as a problem for some tenants, mainly due to safety issues when neighbors rent their apartments to strangers.

Then there’s the inevitable quality of life issues like late night noise and even bedbugs. Two years ago, when there was an uptick of bedbug sightings in Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, Tenants Association John Marsh said he thought illegal hotel activity may have had something to do with it.

Meanwhile, in some properties, like ST/PCV, renting out one’s home for a bit of extra cash is not only against the law, but against the terms of the lease.

At City Hall, the speakers, following the formation of a coalition called Share Better, criticized Airbnb for not warning users that they may face eviction for renting out their homes. It was only after ST-PCV Tenants Association leaders as well as CWCapital employees met with representatives from Airbnb that the company agreed to send a pop-up message to would be Airbnb users with ST/PCV addresses that it would be illegal to rent their unit.

Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, said this week that as a result of the warning message, she believes illegal apartment rentals are less of a problem today than they had been in recent years.

But they are still a problem.

“It’s just anecdotal things from people that it’s still going on,” said Steinberg. “People they’ve never seen lugging suitcases in and out.”

Additionally, on Monday, a Stuy Town apartment appeared in a listing by an Airbnb “host” named Damian, who was asking $304 a night for a two-bedroom apartment for a minimum of 14 days. The same user described himself in his bio as a manager of multiple apartments. The Stuy Town apartment was listed as a “Gramercy designer luxury suite.” The others available through the same host were in Soho, Nolita and Greenwich Village.

As for whether Airbnb is to blame for the other instances mentioned by Steinberg is hard to say, since there are other similar home-sharing service websites. One, called Flipkey, targeted ST/PCV residents in May of 2013 with a postcard mailed to each apartment that promised an average booking fee of $1,000.

This was swiftly responded to by management, however, who alerted residents via email that renting out their apartments was a no-no. “Please remember that apartment rentals for fewer than 30 days are prohibited under NYC law and use of this service is a violation of your lease and your tenancy,” CW told tenants. “Furthermore, short term rentals such as these are harmful to the PCVST community and negatively impact your neighbors.”

After that, a rep for Flipkey told T&V the company would not attempt to contact residents again.

Under the Illegal Hotels Law, passed in 2010, it’s illegal to rent out apartments in residential buildings for under 30 days. Airbnb has since fired back by lobbying to amend the law.

Tenants hold signs at a City Hall press conference.

Tenants hold signs at a City Hall press conference.

But while CWCapital has been attempting to stop the practice of short-term renting, tenants in other buildings said at the rally that in some cases it is owners themselves turning properties into illegal hotels. At City Hall, tenants, armed with signs that read “Homes not hotels” and “Save our homes” shared tales of landlords attempting to slowly turn their whole buildings into hotels because they earn more that way than through monthly rent.

A Hell’s Kitchen resident named Tom Kaylor said his landlord turned a one-bedroom apartment into a five-bedroom by packing in short-term guests. One of them turned out to be registered sex offender who threatened Kaylor’s nine-year-old son.

“We went to the NYPD,” he said. “We got him charged with making terroristic threats, but that didn’t stop the hostel.” In another incident at the building, Kaylor recalled how a Danish woman staying there had someone follow her inside and attack her. When neighbors heard her scream, they came out and her attacker, who’d left her with two black eyes, fled. “She didn’t want to make a police report because she was leaving the next day,” said Kaylor.

State Senator Liz Krueger, who authored the illegal hotels legislation along with Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, said she had tried to get it passed for seven years before it finally became law. “

Fundamentally what we have seen happen is a decrease in affordable housing in the city,” said Krueger, “as these apartments are taken off the market to be used in illegal hotel activities.”

She and other politicians then took jabs at Airbnb’s recent marketing blitz, with different ads depicting New Yorkers along with their guests in their apartments and sharing stories of how renting out their homes helps them afford their own expensive rent. But, pols said, the ads are misleading because most hosts aren’t home while their guests are, which is what makes the transaction illegal.

“It’s very misleading — renting to tourists to make ends meet,” added Council Member Dan Garodnick. “That would be very sympathetic, if it was a complete picture.”

Gottfried noted that regular hotels have to abide by very specific fire and safety codes. “Illegal hotels almost always violate these safety codes,” he said.

Borough President Gale Brewer said she thought Airbnb “is a problem,” though she added that the city does need more low-cost hotels. “This administration needs to look at quality hotels that are legal. That’s what we should focus on,” she said.

Other politicians to criticize Airbnb as making the affordable housing crisis worse were Council Members Corey Johnson, Rory Lancman, Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal, State Senators Brad Hoylman and Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Members Walter Mosley and Linda Rosenthal and Public Advocate Tish James.

The event was also in promotion of the Share Better coalition, which seems to have been created with the sole purpose of opposing Airbnb. The coalition, as well as Attorney General Eric Scheiderman believe two thirds of the company’s income comes from illegal hotels. After subpoenaing anonymous information about the company’s users, the A.G. asked for identifiable information about 124 users who allegedly are each renting out a minimum of 10 apartments. Seventeen of those users have since sued to block their personal information being turned over so the A.G. currently has the identities of the remaining 107.

A spokesperson for Airbnb, Nick Papas, when asked about the rally and criticism of its business practices, issued this statement.

“We strongly oppose illegal hotels and have advocated for legislation that would modify the law to make it easier for regular people to share their primary residence.” He also referred to information on a recent post on the company blog.

In it, Airbnb insisted that its 25,000 listings were too small of a number to have a negative impact on the pricing of New York City’s three million households. The company also said that it recently removed a number of users who were “abusing” its system by offering multiple listings and not providing a “quality, local” experience for guests. It also blamed the current backlash against its services on the hotel industry.

“Some in the hotel industry will do everything they can to stop the sharing economy,” the post read, “but we look forward to working with leaders in New York on sensible legislation that cracks down on illegal hotels and ensures regular New Yorkers can share the home in which they live.”

On Friday afternoon, when talking to reporters, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised there would be “more enforcement” on the issue. “We have been increasing enforcement and you’ll see more enforcement as we go along,” he said. “There’s difference types of realities, obviously, under the rubric of Airbnb the sharing economy, and some of them are things to embrace and some are examples where some individuals get outside the law and we’re obviously going to follow up on that very aggressively.

“We also need a bigger set of policies to address these changes in our society – you know, the role of technology and commerce – and we intend to do that. But you’re certainly going to see – if you look at the numbers so far, there’s been a lot of enforcement already this year. You’re certainly going to see more.”

East Side residents and groups participating in People’s Climate March on September 21

Mural of fifteen environmentalists created by girls of the Lower Eastside Girls Club

Mural of fifteen environmentalists created by girls of the Lower Eastside Girls Club

As world leaders convene in New York City next week for a United Nations Summit on Climate Change, more than one hundred thousand people are expected to attend a mass demonstration demanding action on the climate crisis. Organized by a coalition of over 1,200 environmental, labor, faith, and business groups, The People’s Climate March will be held this Sunday, September 21. The march comes less than two years after Superstorm Sandy caused more than $65 billion in damage along the east coast and as the world continues to experience  extreme weather events including severe drought in California and the worst flooding South Asia has encountered in more than a century, all of which scientist consensus increasingly links to manmade climate change.

Residents of East Lower Manhattan, along with neighborhood organizations such as Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), are campaigning to get their neighbors to join the march, which will start at  11:30 a.m. on Central Park West and proceed south through midtown.

“During Hurricane Sandy, the stretch from E. 20th Street to E. 34th Street was under over six feet of water,” said Stuyvesant Town resident and organizer Lucy Block.  “As climate change continues, NYC will face more extreme weather events. As a young person, I’m fighting for my future.”

“After years of organizing to protect our community from unjust housing policies and bad landlords, surviving Hurricane Sandy taught us that we would also have to protect our community from the impacts of climate change,” said Demaris Reyes, Executive Director of GOLES. “We know that climate change disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color, and capping greenhouse emissions is an huge step to prevent more disasters like Sandy and protect our community.”

Area organizations that have signed up as partners of the Climate March include the New School, the Sara Roosevelt Park Community Coalition, the Sixth Street Center, La Plaza Cultural, 9BC Tompkins Square Block Association and the NYC Community Garden Coalition.

Benjamin Tressler, a resident of Kips Bay, said, “The march is just the start. We have to keep up the pressure on our government and corporations – but we also have to do more as individuals and as communities to reduce our carbon footprint, conserve energy, and turn from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable power.”

Happy Dogs says former trainer stole clients, started competing business

Trainer also boards dogs illegally in his Peter Cooper Village apt., complaint says

Peter Cooper resident Blake Rodriguez of DCTK9, with other dog walkers, walks a dog close to home in August. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Peter Cooper resident Blake Rodriguez of DCTK9, with other dog walkers, walks a dog close to home in August. Happy Dogs’ owners say he boards dogs in his apartment. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

At Happy Dogs Stuyvesant Town, a dog daycare, bath and boarding business that opened last summer on First Avenue between 23rd and 24th Streets, the owners are suing a former dog trainer they worked with, accusing him of pilfering their pooch clients for his own dog walking and training business. Additionally, according to the suit, which was filed by owners Jennifer and Ien Cheng on Tuesday, the dog trainer, Peter Cooper Village resident Blake Rodriguez, has been illegally boarding dogs in his apartment on East 20th Street.

In 2012, The Chengs said they’d asked Rodriguez to train dogs at their Williamsburg facility, one of two Happy Dogs centers they now own and at that time, the only one open, though there was a plan to expand the business to Manhattan. According to the suit, under the agreement, the owners were to provide the space, promote the training service and he’d collect two thirds of the money brought in as a commission. Additionally, they said, the contract called for him not to compete with their business or work for any competitor within a three-mile radius of Happy Dogs during the contract and for 12 months following termination of the agreement.

But, they argued, he’s been doing just that by opening his own center early in 2014 on Attorney Street. They’ve noticed that since then, they’ve seen photos online of Rodriguez with dogs that used to be their clients or that have been coming to Happy Dogs less lately.

Rodriguez, they said, had been a trainer with his own company, Dream Come True K9 (DCTK9), since 2010. His services included boarding and extensive training for behavioral issues. The Chengs said until he trained at Happy Dogs, he hadn’t offered group training. When the first training class was held, in 2012, 80 percent of the participants were already existing Happy Dogs clients.

They also said in the suit that they recently discovered that in addition to training, Rodriguez was also providing boarding for dogs not in the board-and-train program. They did know about dogs being boarded for a specific training program for dogs with “significant” behavioral problems. This wasn’t a conflict since Happy Dogs didn’t offer the service. It is noted in the complaint, however, that is against New York health code and against Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town leasing policy.

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