By Dan Rivoli
The city may be able to start cracking down on so-called illegal hostels that have flourished on the Upper West Side for decades.
Many landlords who own buildings with single-room-occupancy (SRO) units—inexpensive, dorm-like spaces—have taken advantage of ambiguous language in the city’s housing laws to set up lucrative hostels that officials say are illegal.
But the State Legislature may pass a bill that would tighten the language around laws for transient and permanent housing. The bill already cleared the State Senate June 24 with 32 votes, all Democrats.
“It’s harassment and dangerous for tenants to share their apartment buildings with transients trooping in and out at all hours,” said Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, the bill’s sponsor, who represents part of the Upper West Side.
Landlords can rake in much more money lodging tourists than collecting rent from low-income New Yorkers who stay in many of these units. The easy cash has led some landlords to harass and intimidate tenants out of the buildings to make way for transients.
“I hope… these buildings that are meant and designed for permanent residence are used as that and New Yorkers living here are able to obtain this affordable housing,” said Marti Weithman, project director for Goddard Riverside SRO Law Project.
The city has unsuccessfully tried to rein in these hotels. In 2009, an appellate court decided that the city could not prove a residential building was being “primarily” used as a hotel unless 50 percent of the units were for transients.
But that hasn’t stopped the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement from busting these operations through building code violations. In fall 2009, the city shut down two Upper West Side hotels run by Jacob Avid, who operates the Kore line of hotels. The buildings were partially vacated because of overcrowding and illegally subdivided rooms.
“Illegal hotels all too often erode our base of affordable housing while creating fire safety and security hazards and quality-of-life concerns in residential neighborhoods,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement supporting the legislation, adding that the bill would “allow city agencies to issue summonses and initiate other enforcement actions against illegal hotels.”