By Naeisha Rose
An apartment building in Ridgewood was among seven buildings last week to be named in the city’s first multi-borough lawsuit against several individuals acting in concert with each other for using housing units as illegal hotels in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, according to the mayor’s office.
The sole apartment is located in Ridgewood at 17-12 Menahan St. and had two units — 1R and 2F — that were operated like an illegal hotel by one of the defendants, Ekaterina Plotnikova, according to the mayor’s spokeswoman, Alacia Lauer, of the Office of Criminal Justice.
The Ridgewood property had 60 reservations between June 2017 and July 2018 for the units, during which there were five violations issued for inadequate fire alarm systems, inadequate means of egress or unobstructed exit and a conversion for use other than permanent residential purposes, according to Lauer.
The last two violations included an occupancy contrary to the certificate of occupancy and a peremptory vacate order, which was issued April 27 for converting the lower part of duplex apartment 1R into sleeping quarters without providing a means of egress, according to Lauer.
Between all seven buildings, the operators, which also included Alexandra Pavlenok, Stepan Solovyev, and John and Jane Doe numbers one through 10, generated approximately $1 million from 5,000 visitors, according to the mayor’s office.
The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, which subpoenaed Airbnb requesting payout information for the Menahan property and other associated listings, was not able to provide a breakdown of how much was generated at the apartment buildings separately because the online marketplace for lodgings failed to fully comply with them, according to Lauer.
“This is highly commercialized activity where operators are misleading visitors and taking housing units away from New Yorkers — and they’re making a fortune in the process. We’re taking action to preserve the city’s housing stock and to defend visitors’ rights to safe and legal accommodations,” said Christian Klossner, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement.
While Airbnb was only mentioned in the lawsuit, along with TripAdvisor and it’s subsidiary FlipKey, as sites that the illegal hotel operators used to create accounts to post for short-term rentals for rooms in the apartment buildings, its main concern is protecting New Yorkers who use the site to rent rooms legally.
“While Airbnb actively pushes for statewide legislation in Albany that would provide for strict enforcement, the Office of Special Enforcement should limit its focus to truly bad actors and not expend its vast resources to target regular New Yorkers who are responsibly sharing their home,” said Josh Meltzer, the head of northeast policy at Airbnb.
Airbnb’s refusal to comply with the OSE may not matter, because two months ago the City Council voted in favor of a new law that will require home-share companies to share data on its users and is expected to go into effect February 2019, according to the mayor’s office.
This comes at a time when affordable housing across the city is increasingly hard to find, because of a significant growth in short-term rental listings, according to the mayor’s office and Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan).
“Illegal hotel operators like the ones in this suit exacerbate the city’s housing affordability crisis. Shady profiteers like these that use our badly needed housing stock to turn a quick buck are shameful, and this is a perfect example of why we need to maintain enforcement efforts against this harmful behavior,” said Johnson.
In August, Airbnb removed listings from users of its site who were abusing the company’s one host–one home policy in prime residential areas, and in Queens, 285 listings were removed.
“Illegal hotel operators pose a threat to our housing stock and our neighborhoods. We will use any tools necessary to shut them down and keep New Yorkers safe,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose