City says SRO building is running illegal hotel, but owner, fighting closure, says business is legit
By Sabina Mollot
Hotel 17, a budget hotel located in Stuyvesant Square, has stopped taking reservations and has been cleared of guests.
According to the general property manager of the business, Eyal Siri, this is not due to lack of business but due to the city’s crackdown on illegal hotels, which Siri said he’s been unfairly ensnared in.
Siri, whose family has leased and operated the hotel since the 1970s, admitted the business was never actually certified as a hotel, even though it has served that purpose openly for decades. According to the certificate of occupancy from 1943, it’s a Class A multi-dwelling/single room occupancy/old law tenement. In recent years, the city has had a task force investigate illegal hotels, which are usually residential buildings where rooms or apartments have been rented to people for under 30 days.
As of Monday, on the hotel’s website, a notice on the home page indicates the business is closed.
“We thank you for your patronage and it has been our honor to serve you during the last 67 years that Hotel 17 has been in operation,” it reads. “Unfortunately the city of New York has decided to close down this generations old family business and we therefore can no longer accept any reservations. Our family and employees thank you and all wish you safe travels.”
In the surrounding neighborhood, neighbors have already begun to wonder if the city wants to turn the hotel into a homeless shelter, but as far as Siri knows the building’s landlord hasn’t yet decided what to do with the property and doesn’t particularly want a shelter.
Siri wouldn’t provide Town & Village with his landlord’s name, but said he’d pass on a request for comment from this reporter. We didn’t hear back.
Town & Village also reached out to the mayor’s office for comment, and Christian Klossner, executive director of the Office of Special Enforcement, reiterated that the property is supposed to be used for residential purposes.
“This building is in a residential neighborhood and is, by law, supposed to provide permanent housing to New Yorkers,” said Klossner. “After a series of enforcement actions, the owner shut down the existing hotel operations. In the face of an unprecedented housing crisis, we encourage the landlord to return the building to its legal use as soon as possible.”
The office also noted that the area is zoned for residential use, not hotel use, and that an application by the owner for a zoning variance to be officially converted to a lodging house was denied for this reason. Another city official said the owner went through an appeal process and lost earlier this year.
However, Siri told us he’s still hoping to get the city to grandfather the landmarked, pre-war property as a hotel, although he closed down operations after being hit by about $50,000 in fines. At this time, Hotel 17, which is located at 225 East 17th Street, has only five permanent residents left in the 160-room building.
In his attempt to fight the closure, Siri had dug through the business’s archives to find advertisements for the hotel that ran in the 1950s, to prove consistent hotel use. Hotel 17 has even benefitted the city, he argued, since it has received $1.5 million a year in taxes from its operation.
He added that in every way but the paperwork issue, it’s been compliant with the law, keeping up to code with regular maintenance work and having proper fire safety measures in place.
As Siri explained it, the hotel has faced scrutiny since the illegal hotels law went into effect in 2010, but more recently has started to face inspectors, who he blasted for “goon”-like behavior.
“They came here and started taking pictures and knocking on doors, scaring guests half to death,” he said. With his family fearing that next time inspectors could return with a padlock, “We’re cutting our losses,” Siri explained.
On the other hand, Siri said he doesn’t blame the city for getting tough on illegal hotels overall, saying they prey on tourists who have no knowledge of local building codes.
“I know a lot of building owners were converting their buildings to hotels for profit but disregarding (safety),” he said.
Siri said the hotel catered to tourists on a budget since at the building, bathrooms are in the hallway and there’s no communal kitchen. Rooms have gone from $70-$200 a night depending on the time of year, less for the first quarter of the year, more from the spring to fall.
“We had people from all walks of life, young, old, families, people in business attire,” Siri said. “Instead of paying $300-$400 they were paying half that much.”
In a matter unrelated to the certification, according to the Department of Buildings website, the building is currently in violation for work that was done in 2015 without a permit. That work included removing seven floors, adding bathrooms to each floor and removing a community kitchen on the eighth floor, according to the DOB. Asked about this, Siri said the work was done before his arrival at the business and that the rooms have since been restored to their original form. The problem, he said, has been getting the city to update the information.
“As you may know this is a landmark building and neighborhood and the association will never let us upgrade the rooms in order to place more upscale tenants in them,” he said.
T&V reached out to the DOB, where a spokesperson confirmed corrective work was done but that in order to close out the violation, the landlord also must issue a “certificate of correction” that the work was done with supporting evidence like photos or construction receipts.
Meanwhile, other than that there are no guests, the hotel is still running, with a person at the front desk and staff to maintain the building. Siri said he was just glad winter is over, because otherwise he’d still be heating an entire building for five people. He’s also still got 15 years left on his lease.
“Now with my family I’m trying to work with my landlord to figure out the best course of action,” he said.