By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Councilmembers Rosie Mendez and Rory Lancman announced legislation last Thursday to crack down on tenant harassment from illegal hotel conversions.
“(Short-term renters) are coming in at all hours, bringing people they meet into the apartment and it’s then impacting the quality of life, in that there are strangers in their building,” Mendez said. “It’s a breach of peace and quiet in your home because of the noise and people traffic.”
She noted that in a hotel, guests can call down to the concierge if there’s noise in the hallways late at night and the hotel can take care of the problem.
But in an apartment building without a live-in super that’s been turned into an illegal hotel, the solution isn’t quite so simple.
“When tenants call the landlord, they’re not going to reach them at 2 a.m.,” she said. “And if it’s the owner who’s renting it out, they may not follow up with the complaint.”
Whether the noise is due to someone renting from a building tenant or the landlord, if the landlord does not address the problem, this legislation would make the act of illegally renting out apartments a form of harassment and would allow tenants to sue the landlord.
Mendez said that illegal hotel activity is happening all over the city but in her district, there are several buildings in the East 20s with complaints. She added that in places with no complaints, it can be difficult to pin down specific locations for it, but she described sitting in a Starbucks near her district office and frequently seeing people come in with luggage and wait for others, who eventually come to meet them.
“There are not hotels near my office so you know there is some illegal renting in that immediate area,” she said.
Tenant harassment complaints have almost doubled since 2011 and complaints of illegal hotels have increased 62 percent since 2013. Short term rental website Airbnb, which has been linked with the growth of illegal hotel activity in New York in recent years, currently has over 28,000 residential units listed for transient hotel use, which is a 5,800 percent increase since 2009, when Airbnb first allowed listings in New York.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman published a report at the end of last year analyzing Airbnb listings from the beginning of 2010 through June 2014 and found that 75 percent of the listings were in violation of state law.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Schneiderman and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launch of a joint enforcement task force last week called the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force that will investigate and bring enforcement actions against landlords who harass tenants. Under Lancman and Mendez’s tenant harassment bill, illegal hotel conversions would be included in that definition of harassment. It would fall under the jurisdiction of the task force and would be subject to its investigations and enforcement actions.
A new data tool launched by an independent software developer, insideairbnb.com, collects public data points from Airbnb’s website and found that 58 percent of the listings offer the entire apartment for an average of 247 days of the year. Of the full apartments listed, the average price for units in Manhattan is $255 per night, compared to $179 a night in Brooklyn and $141 a night in Queens. Compared to 67 listings in Staten Island, 77 in the Bronx, 776 in Queens and 4,854 in Brooklyn, Manhattan has over 10,000 entire apartments listed as available, including a handful of listings in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village apartments for $200 per night.
Mendez noted ST/PCV has certain measures in place that residents can resort to if they’re having problems with noise at all hours due to short-term visitors coming in and out, like calling Public Safety. But, she added, residents in smaller buildings don’t have that option.
“In other smaller buildings with six to 30 units, you’re left at the mercy of trying to reach the landlord in the middle of the night,” she said.
But, she added, “if there are residents in Stuy Town and Peter Cooper who are having problems and they reach out to security or the landlord and the problem isn’t addressed, then this legislation could help them, too.”