City sues landlords for listing rent-stabilized Hell’s Kitchen apartments on Airbnb
412 West 46th Street. Image via Google Street View.
The city has named the owners of three Hell’s Kitchen buildings in a lawsuit filed this week in Manhattan Supreme Court for operating illegal short-term rentals in rent-stabilized apartments, the New York Observer reports. The city says the owners of 410 and 412 West 46th Street and 452 West 36th Street have neglected their buildings, harassed tenants to get them to move out, deregulated units and kept units vacant to rent out on a short-term basis. Tenants of one building were left without gas or a roof for six months in 2015 due to a fire; the other two are awash in building code violations.
City inspectors found that at least 11 of the 50 apartments in the trio of five-story buildings should have been offered as rent-stabilized units but have been hosting illegal Airbnb rentals instead. At least nine of the Airbnb listings were discovered by the The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement (OSE), which enforces the city’s nuisance abatement law including illegal hotel activity. The apartments hosted over 700 guests–and raked in $300,000 over three years–according to the suit.
The city argues that the number of rent-regulated units in the buildings has seen a significant drop since 2011, which is just about when the OSE began getting calls about the illegal hotel activity. Court documents show that only five units out of 50 are still on the books as rent-stabilized according to DHCR records.
The city is seeking over $1 million in punitive damages. The lawsuit joins dozens that the City Law Department has filed against landlords as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fight against building owners who defy the state’s short term rental law prohibiting them from subletting units for less than 30 days at a time.
Named in the suit are building owners Keystone Management, Highpoint Associates XII, Richard Lagana and Daniel Ohebshalom, who were listed on the New York City Public Advocate’s worst landlords list in 2015 and in 2018. Highpoint Associates held the number one spot in 2015, after 412 West 46th Street was was ravaged by a fire, leading to citations for lacking sprinklers and fire alarm systems. The building’s top two floors are uninhabitable by DOB standards, and there is a partial vacate order in place. The company had already been hit with over $100,000 in fines for illegal short-term rentals.
All three buildings have been deemed unsafe, which is also tenant harassment. The buildings also have 250 outstanding violations for hazardous conditions from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The buildings had racked up 100 violations for illegal transient occupancy.
A spokesman for the mayor’s office said, “Short-term illegal rental platforms like Airbnb make it all too easy for landlords to harass and displace rent stabilized tenants. We will continue to use our enforcement tools to hold these landlords accountable as part of large effort to preserve and protect affordable housing.”