Dick Belsky’s newest book is The Midnight Hour. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Last August, Dick Belsky, a former journalist and editor at several publications, including the Post and Daily News, released a novel called The Kennedy Connection. The book, published by Simon & Schuster, was about an embattled journalist in what was to become a three-part series.
Now, Belsky, who’s also a longtime resident of Gramercy Park, is releasing the second in the series, a novella coming out as an e-book on February 3. Titled The Midnight Hour (Simon and Schuster, $3), the story once again follows an ambitious but discredited reporter for the Daily News named Gil Malloy.
Recently, Belsky sat down for an interview with a Town & Village reporter at Irving Farm coffee joint to discuss the series and what went into writing it. Additionally, for those who haven’t seen the first book, here’s a recap:
Malloy, a somewhat cocky creature who’d been a rising star, had written an award-winning story about a mysterious prostitute. The problem? He’d never actually spoken directly with the prostitute, not being successful at finding her, while the story made it seem as if he did.
“In the beginning of the book, that’s where he is, barely hanging onto his job,” said Belsky. “He’s not being given the big stories, because nobody can trust him. His integrity has been lost. He was riding high, now he’s riding low and no one wants anything to do with him.”
At the same time, the plotline also focuses on the Kennedy assassination 51 years ago. Belsky chose to write about this after learning, as the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death was coming up, that most people still found the assassination just as important and relevant as they did when it happened.
While Stuyvesant Town has become known for its wildlife, in particular its famous black squirrels, on Sunday morning, the complex was visited for the first time by a coyote.
The coyote, a young female, which has been named Stella by Parks officials and has since been captured and released into a wooded area in the Bronx, had likely traveled south into Manhattan.
She was captured on the property on the Avenue C side by police officers, who then brought her to Animal Care and Control, where she was given a clean bill of health.
Meanwhile, a Parks official T&V interviewed about the incident said that coyote sightings in the city are becoming more common, and she expects that this trend will only continue. Just a couple of weeks ago, another coyote was found in Riverside Park, and in 2011, another coyote had wandered into Tribeca.
Sarah Aucoin, director of NYC Parks’ Urban Park Rangers, said the coyote’s visit last weekend was “not entirely unexpected.
“We know that many coyotes have been expanding their range,” she said. “Not in Stuyvesant Town obviously but New York City provides a good habitat.”
Plows make their way up First Avenue on Monday as New York braced for the worst. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Despite the dire predictions for a “potentially historic” blizzard that was expected to drop at least two feet of snow on the city this week, New York was spared most of Juno’s wrath in the recent storm, with a paltry 10 inches recorded in Central Park by Tuesday.
Without knowing beforehand that their preparations were mostly for naught however, area residents and politicians alike prepared for the worst. Local grocery stores could not be reached for comment on the state of their inventory ahead of the storm on Monday, but the Trader Joe’s on Sixth Avenue at West 22nd Street, packed on a regular day, had a line just to get into the store throughout the afternoon. An employee herding people in slowly said that it was about a five to 10 minute wait just to make it inside. Most likely due to the subway’s closure, many stores in the area weren’t open on Tuesday morning but some, including Trader Joe’s and Home Depot, had makeshift signs in the window early Tuesday afternoon noting that they would be opening later in the day.
Re: “Bedbugs are nothing new,” T&V letter, Jan. 22
To the Editor:
An anonymous writer in last week’s T&V made the wildly mistaken suggestion that the mention of bedbugs in a recent ST/PCV Tenants Association email regarding a City Council hearing on “short term rentals” such as Airbnb was the organization’s first acknowledgement of the serious bedbug problem in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.
To clarify the matter: In 2012, the TA established a Bedbug Registry on its website. Since then, approximately 100 residents have reported to the Registry that they have had an infestation or have had their apartments inspected in management’s “cloverleaf” inspections of apartments adjacent to an infested one. The site keeps residents informed of trouble in their buildings, warns potential renters of the problem and, in some cases, alerts management to cases that may not have been reported to them.
In August 2013, in an all-out effort to raise the alarm on the spreading bedbug problem, the Tenants Association — at enormous expense — mailed to every one of the community’s 11,227 apartments a pamphlet from the NYC Department of Health explaining how to protect against infestations and actions to take if the bugs strike. The TA’s letter that accompanied the pamphlet noted that infestations had been reported in 20 percent of ST/PCV buildings in the previous three years. Anyone confronting a bedbug problem should notify Resident Services and go online to stpcvta.org, the TA’s website, click on the Bedbug Registry at the top left of the site, and let the TA know. The Registry asks only for building address and floor number, not a resident’s name or apartment.
TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
After a whirlwind week that began with an arrest of one of Albany’s most powerful men and is ending with Sheldon Silver no longer having the title of Assembly speaker, what has remained up in the air is just how much actual legislation will get done as Albany is distracted by the implementation of a new speaker, and possible implementation of a new, more egalitarian power structure.
While not one to complain about reforms in Albany, the timing is naturally a concern for tenant advocates like Mike McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC, considering the rent laws are scheduled to sunset this June.
Two weeks ago, when news of an investigation into an alleged long-running bribery and kickback scheme perpetuated by Silver started to surface, McKee said it was too soon to predict how it would affect one of Albany’s “three men in a room” – or tenants.
But as of Monday evening, some of Silver’s fellow Assembly Democrats were calling on him to resign and an idea that had been floated a day earlier to appoint five Assembly members to act as speaker while he worked to beat the rap against him had fizzled.
Democrat legislators calling for him to resign early on included Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and in the Assembly, Democrats Brian Kavanagh and Keith Wright.
“He should understand that he’s lost the confidence of a majority of our conference,” the New York Times quoted Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh as saying of Sheldon Silver after a closed-door meeting on Monday night. Kavanagh did not respond to calls for comment from Town & Village.
However, by Tuesday night, Silver’s ouster (or resigning) as speaker along with an announcement that a replacement would be coming soon was pretty much a done deal, according to published reports. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle will be interim speaker until an election is held on February 10, according to City & State.
Police are on the lookout for a dark-haired creep who grabbed a woman’s butt several times while she was riding the L train. Once the train got to Union Square, the 25-year-old victim managed to take a couple of photos of the man before he fled.
The incident occurred on Thursday, December 11, but police only released the information on Wednesday evening.
Anyone with information in regards to this incident is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS.
The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers Website at WWW.NYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or texting their tips to 274637(CRIMES) then enter TIP577.
‘PERV’ GROPED WOMAN AFTER FOLLOWING HER FROM CLUB, SAY POLICE
Police arrested 41-year-old Mitch Martin for sexual abuse and possession of marijuana at the corner of Union Square East and East 14th Street last Saturday at 6:50 a.m. The victim told police that she met Martin at the Cielo nightclub in the Meatpacking District and told him she wasn’t interested in him, but he then followed her onto an MTA bus after she left the club. The victim said that he sat next to her on the bus, causing her fear and alarm. She got off at East 14th Street and Third Avenue in an attempt to get away from him but he just followed her off the bus and then squeezed her breasts and put his hand on her crotch. The victim said that she yelled and a witness intervened, causing Martin to flee on foot. Police searched the area and found Martin and an officer said he was also in allegedly in possession of marijuana and a glassine pipe.
STOLEN LAPTOP FOUND AT KENMORE HALL
Police arrested 57-year-old Donald Puryear for petit larceny and possession of stolen property inside the Kenmore Hall SRO building at 145 East 23rd Street last Saturday at 6:55 a.m. The victim told police that he put his laptop in the community room and both the victim and a witness said that Puryear had taken the computer without permission. A surveillance video was made available.
MAN ARRESTED IN 2014 ‘MUGGING’
Police arrested Salahin Mustagus, 18, for robbery last Tuesday at 1:20 p.m. inside the 13th precinct. Mustagus allegedly robbed his victim at knifepoint last year.
ARREST FOR DRUG DEAL ON SECOND AVE.
Richard Corbett, 43, was arrested in front of 442 Second Avenue for intent to sell a heroin to another man last Tuesday at 1:20 p.m.
MAN ARRESTED FOR PHONE ‘THEFT’
Thirty-year-old Michael Gomera was arrested for possession of stolen property last Wednesday at 4:05 a.m. in front of 125 West 20th Street. Gomera was allegedly in possession of the victim’s cell phone and told the victim, “I’ll give your phone back if you pay me $100,” police said.
MEN ARRESTED FOR ‘COUNTERFEIT’ DVDS
Police arrested three men for forgery last Wednesday. Konstantinos Bardis, 56, and Anwar Schenwarie, 60, were arrested at the corner of Fifth Avenue and West 28th Street at 9 a.m. and 63-year-old Ibrahima Ngom was arrested at 9:34 a.m. at the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 22nd Street. The three men were allegedly in possession of counterfeit DVD movies. Ngom was also selling the DVDs on a public sidewalk, police said.
DUANE READE ‘SHOPLIFTER’ BUSTED
Police arrested 43-year-old Kevin Staggers for petit larceny and possession of stolen property inside 5 East 19th Street last Wednesday at 10:44 a.m. An officer saw Staggers casing a commercial movie trailer that was parked near Irving Place and East 19th Street, after which he went into a nearby Duane Reade and allegedly took items from the store without paying.
BELLEVUE ‘TRESPASSER’ ARRESTED
Police arrested 38-year-old Tommy Moy for criminal trespassing inside Bellevue Hospital at 462 First Avenue last Wednesday at 11:05 a.m. Moy allegedly entered the building while talking to himself and tried to run up one of the escalators as a guard tried to stop him. Police said that he had no permission to be inside the building.
ARREST FOR SELLING HATS WITHOUT A LICENSE
Police arrested 44-year-old Stanley Jabouin for an unclassified misdemeanor at the corner of Union Square East and East 14th Street last Wednesday at 3:25 p.m. Jabouin was allegedly trying to sell more than five hats without a Department of Consumer Affairs general vendor’s license.
CHECK REVEALED TO BE FAKE AT HSBC BANK
Police arrested Jasmine King, 32, for grand larceny and forgery inside 15 Union Square West last Thursday at 1:47 p.m. Police said that King attempted to cash a fraudulent check in the HSBC Bank at the location. When the teller saw a block on the account, she contacted the bank manager and discovered that the check for $1,074.68 was fraudulent.
MAN BUSTED FOR ‘DRUNK’ DRIVING
After getting into a car accident, Rodolfo Solano, 28, was arrested for intoxicated driving last Friday at 6:07 a.m. in front of Bellevue Hospital. Hospital police told the 13th Precinct officers that Solano had been driving the car and upon investigation, Solano allegedly appeared to have watery eyes, a flushed face and smelled like alcohol.
MAN ARRESTED FOR ‘GRAVITY KNIFE’
Police arrested 23-year-old David Sayer for possession of a weapon at the Union Square subway station last Saturday at 6:40 p.m. Police saw Sayer on an 8th Avenue-bound L train and he allegedly had a black metal clip on his pants pocket that was determined to be a gravity knife. He allegedly told police, “I use it for my protection.”
Rabbi Dr. Irving Block, founder of the Brotherhood Synagogue, with Dr. Phyllis Robinove Block
By Wally Dobelis
We have lost another cornerstone of the Gramercy Park neighborhood, Dr. Phyllis Robinove Block, wife of the late rabbi, Dr. Irving J. Block, who was the founder of the Brotherhood Synagogue. Phyllis, as she liked to be called, the mother of Herbert Block and grandmother of Joseph, Isaac and Tamar, peacefully passed away in the early morning of Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel hospital. The contribution of this this scholar of French literature was significant to the culture of our city life – she was the rabbi’s chief volunteer in publishing a bulletin, year after year, compiling memorial books and, particularly, helping foster his mission of the brotherhood of religions. This was acknowledged by the presence of two mayors of NYC at the services, one in the sanctuary and the other at the first shiva – David Dinkins and Bill de Blasio, respectively.
The funeral was January 14, 11 a.m., at the synagogue, with Rabbi Daniel Alder officiating, with Cantor Michael Weis, Rabbi Samuel Greenberg of Young Israel of White Plains and Rabbi Michael Miller of Jewish Community Relations Council offering readings. Son Herbert and grandson Joseph reminisced about their mother. The interment was at the Cedar Park Cemetery in Paramus, N.J.
Workers rally in front of their workplace last week.
By Sabina Mollot
It’s the mystery of the disappearing restaurant owner.
The owner of Pure Food & Wine, an upscale vegan restaurant on Irving Place, as well as two local juice bars, has been stiffing her employees for nearly a month, employees said, and on top of that — she can’t be reached by anyone.
The restaurant’s owner and founder, Sarma Melngaillis, has been out of town, supposedly traveling for business. Employees also said last week they haven’t had any contact from anyone from management. That would be an LLC owned by China Grill Management as well as shareholders.
Melngaillis also didn’t respond to T&V’s emailed requests for comment. Calls to the various business locations (including the juice bars, one in Gramercy, the other in Chelsea), went unanswered due to no one staffing the places.
“The owner has not communicated with anyone,” said Allie Coltelli, a line cook. “They’re ghosts. It’s very suspicious.”
Last week, Coltelli, along with one of her coworkers, hired an attorney, and on Tuesday, he filed a lawsuit.
Employees have been told they’re finally getting paid this week, but Coltelli doubts it.
“I’m 99 percent certain that’s not going to happen.”
Additionally, along with wages — which were last paid in late December with checks that bounced — tips for the servers have also not been paid. Tips are pooled and paid evenly to front-house employees with each two-week pay-cycle. The company’s bills have also not been paid nor has the rent, and Coltelli said she heard the restaurant “may be shuttered as early as this week.”
Captain Ron McCall from Transit District 4 with Deputy Inspector David Ehrenberg and 13th Precinct Community Council President Frank Scala (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Crime was down 4 percent in 2014 for the 13th precinct, Deputy Inspector David Ehrenberg reported at the community council’s first meeting of the year on Tuesday evening. Additionally, while grand larceny has made up 80 percent of the crime in the precinct, those numbers are dropping as well. The year has seen a 22 percent decrease for the crime so far. Overall crime for the year is also down 26 percent in the precinct.
Although crime was down for the precinct overall last year, there were increases last year in specific areas, including robberies, burglaries and felony assaults, with 17 percent, 30 percent and 43 percent increases respectively. All of those crimes have seen decreases since the beginning of this year, though, with the biggest decrease in burglaries, with a 66 percent drop.
Ehrenberg said that the increase in felony assaults last year was primarily due to attacks on EMTs and doctors at the many hospitals in the precinct, but he added that there has been a slight increase in street violence.
“In most cases, it has been verbal disputes that escalated,” he said. An assault can be escalated to a felony if a weapon is involved, but Ehrenberg noted that the weapons involved in most of the felony assaults in this precinct were items found on the street, such as garbage cans, rather than a weapon like a loaded gun or a knife.
Bedroom alcove of studio apartment (photo from pcvstliving.com)
By Sabina Mollot
Last month, Town & Village reported that Stuyvesant Town’s newly built studio apartments had finally hit the market. There were five to choose from with prices for the units—none any larger than 500 square feet — ranging from $3,162 to $3,420.
However, the five units are still available, according to the property’s official website, and at a few hundred dollars less than what they were originally listed for.
As of Martin Luther King Day, the units were available at rents listed as “starting at” $2,640 for a 393-foot unit, $2,730 for a 465-foot unit, $2,750 for both of two 500-foot units and the highest priced pick, $,2950 for a different 465-square foot unit. The apartments on Avenue C all feature platinum upgrade finishes and all except one include in-wall (under window) air conditioning. It wasn’t clear from the listings, which units, if any have terraces.
The listings did note, however, that the prices include “all incentives and special offers.”
Like the rest of the apartments in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, they are rent-stabilized at least until the property’s J-51 tax program expires.
In September, Town & Village first reported on the soon-to-come studios, a first for the complex, along with several terraces (another first) to be included in a total of 11 new apartments. The apartments are in the building that formerly housed the management office.
The date of the apartments’ availability has also been postponed by a couple of weeks to February 1.
A spokesperson for CWCapital did not respond to a request for comment on the reason for the price change.
Arlene Harrison with Lieutenant Sammy Ponce of the 13th Precinct at a luncheon honoring cops there last week (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Arlene Harrison President, Gramercy Park Block Association
On October 8, 1993, my then 15-year-old son Tim was beaten by a random wilding gang of over 20 guys in front of my home on Gramercy Park.
Three months later on January 6, 1994, Rudolph Giuliani became mayor and appointed William Bratton police commissioner.
As a result of my son’s attack, in March, 1994, hundreds of neighbors joined together to form the Gramercy Park Block Association. Its mission – public safety.
That same month (March, 1994) Mayor Giuliani’s office asked me to help organize one of their first neighborhood meetings. Its purpose was to show that crime had become so rampant that neighborhoods throughout the city were affected. The meeting, co-hosted by Congresswoman Maloney, Commissioner Bratton and me, was held at the Brotherhood Synagogue, and was attended by over 900 people.
A major focus was the 23rd St. Kenmore Hotel, which had become the epicenter of neighborhood crime, including drug dealing, robberies, prostitution, gangs, murders and crime that spilled onto the streets.
Maloney and Bratton stayed after the meeting, and devised a plan where Maloney contacted Attorney General Janet Reno. Federal marshals and the FBI began a three-month sting operation, which led to the June 1994 takeover of the hotel, the largest asset seizure in the history of the US government. The success of the operation was credited largely to 13th Precinct Police Officer Scott Kimmins, who for eight years visited the Kenmore daily to look after those who needed his help, and to document the crime. The headlines read “Police Officer Kimmins – Hero of the Kenmore” and the lobby of the Kenmore was named in his honor at a ceremony in front of the Kenmore.
This was one local example of NYPD efforts 20 years ago to make the city safer. In the following two decades, from 1994 until now, as a result of effective policing, New York City became “the safest city in the world.”
The now closed Peter Stuyvesant Post Office on East 14th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
The plans for the soon-to-be demolished former Peter Stuyvesant Post Office have been revealed — it, along with a now vacant shop next store, are to become an eight-story apartment building with 114 apartments.
The plans were announced by Benenson Capital Partners (Benenson) and Mack Real Estate Group (MREG) who are partnering on the development of the property, which will also have 15,400 square feet of ground floor retail.
Benenson has owned the property at 432 East 14th Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, since the 1940s, and recently filed demolition plans. The post office closed almost a year ago and has since moved into a smaller space a block west.
The new building, across the street from Stuyvesant Town, will be designed by Robert Laudenschlager of SLCE Architects.
“We are delighted to work with Mack Real Estate Group on this exciting new project, which we believe will maximize the long-term value of a property that has been part of our portfolio for many years,” said Richard A. Kessler, Chief Operating Officer of Benenson, in an official statement. “The Macks share our multi-generational investment philosophy, and we look forward to creating an outstanding building by combining our expertise.”
In a press release, the partners touted the location as a prime spot due to its proximity to the L train connecting the trendy Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick and Williamsburg to the East Village.
Re: Cartoon in T&V, Jan. 8, depicting a panda driving a horse-drawn carriage in front of an irate Mayor de Blasio
I disagree with attacks and cartoons aimed at Mayor de Blasio with regard to his defending the rights of horses in this city. He is concerned with the treatment and welfare of them living in a very noisy, overcrowded city where they do not belong “working” in traffic. This is not early 1900s NYC with few cars going about 15 miles an hour on virtually empty streets with few pedestrians walking around Central Park, no steel drums, no electrifying manhole covers and stray voltage, no taxis careening in and out, no millions of horns continuously blasting nonstop at everyone and everything. Quite honestly, this is not even a peaceful place for humans to live.
As for pandas, I wouldn’t subject these adorable animals either to a life in this noisy city. Politicians note: Pandas cost a fortune to feed and the taxpayers will pay for this – in a city where humans go hungry and homeless.
Politicians joking about de Blasio imply he must “hate horses” when he took a stand against the inhumanity of having carriage horses in this city, surely must know that animal lovers of this city have a conscience and do vote. Everyone should take a lesson from de Blasio’s comment and get a better understanding of treating these animals more humanely which will reflect upon us as a more caring and humane society.
With regard to carriage horses bringing income into the city through tourism, why can’t carriage horse drivers decorate and drive Pedicabs – the city would be cleaner and by pedaling pedicabs, the drivers would be healthier!
Stuyvesant Town tenants Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios were among hundreds protesting Airbnb outside City Hall before a legnthy hearing attended by Airbnb execs, hosts who use the service, tenants and politicians. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Airbnb, the controversial home sharing listings site, was the subject of a lengthy and contentious hearing on Tuesday that consisted mainly of accusations being traded between politicians and the company’s director of global policy.
At the heart of the conversation was whether Airbnb was making efforts to comply with state law that forbids short-term rentals in most residential buildings, which the hearing’s chair, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, said he doubted. Meanwhile, Airbnb’s representative, David Hantman, threw in — at every chance he could get — a chance to defend Airbnb users who rent their homes out infrequently, who he said make up the bulk of the service’s users — and asked repeatedly why the law couldn’t be changed to exempt them. Instead, he argued, the law should just focus on “bad actors,” tenants or landlords who regularly rent apartments to tourists for short-term stays, making life hell for neighbors.
Most of the people in attendance were tenants opposed to Airbnb, due to illegal hotel activity in their own buildings, but there were also a few dozen supporters of the company, including hosts, with both groups demonstrating outside before the hearing. Those against the company carried signs with slogans like “I don’t want strangers for neighbors” and “sharing = selfish.”
A couple of demonstrators in that camp were Stuyvesant Town residents Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios.
Both said they’d seen suspected illegal activity in the community.
“We’ve seen it for sure, definitely in the past year,” said Metalios. “A lot of people coming in with suitcases and garbage being kept in the wrong place.”
Also at the event was ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg, who’d hoped to speak about illegal hotel operations in Stuy Town, but finally gave up at around 5 p.m. since she had a meeting to go to. At this time the hearing, which began at around 11 a.m., was still going on. Since the City Council chambers were filled with around 200 people, some of them standing, the rest of the attendees, like Steinberg, had gotten herded into an overflow room.
Had she been able to give testimony, Steinberg said she would have focused on how, when residents’ use of Airbnb started to take off in 2011, it coincided with an uptick in bedbug infestations in Stuy Town buildings where short-term rentals were taking place. Following meetings with company reps alongside reps from CWCapital, illegal hotel activity in the complex has decreased, though it hasn’t ended completely.
Steinberg also had included in her testimony how the TA had heard concerns from neighbors about their safety when they challenged short-term renters who wanted to gain entry into buildings. In one case, an irate guest “just pushed their way into the building.”
One tenant who did get to testify at the hearing was West Side resident Audrey Smaltz, who said she’d lived in a penthouse apartment in her building since 1977, always feeling safe with the same neighbors for many years. But in recent years, this changed, with the owner renting vacant units as hotel rooms. “The entire fourth floor is for short-term rentals and (there are) many units on other floors,” she said.
As for Airbnb supporters, not too many had signed up to testify at the hearing, which Hantman had explained as being because they’re working people who can’t afford to wait around five hours.
“They have jobs; they have no voice right now,” he said.
However, politicians seemed less than sympathetic about the plight of New Yorkers resorting to home-sharing to help pay their own rent.
Council Member Corey Johnson, who represents Greenwich Village, said he lives in a tiny studio apartment for which “the rent is too damn high,” but added with what New Yorkers pay in rent, they should have the right to not be surrounded by transients.
Another Council Member, Robert Cornegy of Brooklyn, asked Airbnb for their revenue in 2014 and projected revenue for this year, which Hantman said he wouldn’t be allowed to provide. “I’ve got to FOIL that?” Cornegy asked him. “You’ve got to go to our finance people,” Hantman responded.
When questioned about how the attorney general had found that 72 percent of Airbnb rentals to be illegal, Hantman said this was “inaccurate,” especially since Airbnb has since removed thousands of listings by users who don’t provide a “quality” experience.
In response, Williams blasted Hantman for mentioning the word “quality” more than once when discussing hosts’ renting practices.
“You keep mentioning quality — you never once mention following the law,” said Williams. “I’m sure you have lobbyists that can try to change the law, but I don’t know how you can be a business person and never mention state or federal law. You only mention quality of experience. That’s not an effective business model in the City of New York.”
Hantman had argued that very few Airbnb rentals turned out negatively out of two million people using the service to stay in New York over the past few years. He also said 1400 of those people had found places to stay when they were impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, asked about quality of life issues related to short-term rentals, when Hantman mentioned Airbnb has a neighbor hotline that can be called if a resident wants to report problems with an Airbnb guest or host. Rosenthal challenged this, asking “How would they know?” if a neighbor is in fact an Airbnb user as opposed to a client of some other home-sharing service or that the number even exists for the reporting of such issues.
When accused of putting tenants at risk for eviction for hosting, Hantman said the company does have a pop-up on its site for New York City users warning them hosting may not be legal in their buildings or allowed in their leases.
“We know how much they earn, but we don’t know what their lease is,” he said. “We ask our hosts to obey the law.”
One host there to support the company, Lee Thomas, told the panel about how after he became ill with cancer, his high-paying career on Wall Street came to an end and the only means he had of supporting himself was by renting out his getaway cottage. In response, Williams told him the illegal hotels law didn’t even apply to him because it applies to multi-family buildings while his property was just a two-family one.
Along with Airbnb, also getting quite a bit of criticism was the city office tasked with investigating illegal hotel activity, with Council members accusing its director of not doing enough or having the resources needed to adequately deal with the ongoing problem.
Elizabeth Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, kept saying she believed her office was doing a good job at keeping up with complaints, but politicians countered that the system shouldn’t just be complaint-driven. Rather, Rosenthal said, it should be proactive enough to keep up with any suspicious short-term rental listing. This was after Glazer had said her office last year had received 1,050 illegal rental complaints, up from 712 in 2013. In response, Rosenthal told her there were over 2,000 listings in Council Member Antonio Reynoso’s district in Brooklyn alone.
“I publicly take issue with what you’re saying,” said Rosenthal.
When asked how the office investigates tips of illegal activity, Glazer said there is “an array of techniques that we use,” but she declined multiple times to say what they were.
This answer didn’t impress Council Member Peter Koo, who threw back, “I don’t see you using them though.”
He told Glazer about how he’d seen an inspector show up at an address where there was suspected illegal activity and knock once. When no one answered, the inspector knocked again. Then, after a few minutes more, when the door remained unanswered, he was gone.
“How come it’s so hard to open a door?” asked Koo. “Pretend you’re a tourist. Send a decoy. Tell them they’re here to give a massage.”
Despite getting some chuckles from the audience, Koo was then cut off by Williams. Koo said he represents an area in Flushing that’s become a “gateway of Asian tourism.”
Also sitting in at the hearing were the authors of the 2010 illegal hotels law, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. Krueger said what she hoped would come out of the event would be more and not less enforcement of the law at the city level.
“Without enforcement at the local level, it’s as if we didn’t pass it,” she said.
According to Glazer, out of the 1,050 complaints received in 2014, 883 resulted in inspections and 495 violations being issued.
Council Member Dan Garodnick, who was not at the hearing since he is not a member of the housing committee, later said he does support “more aggressive enforcement” of the law.