City Brings First Illegal Hotel Nuisance Abatement Case in Staten Island

February 15, 2018

Landlords posted advertisements on Airbnb and other platforms to operate illegal hotels and refused to comply with law despite repeated administrative enforcement actions

NEW YORK-The Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement is bringing a lawsuit against two Staten Island property owners and their assistant, for allegedly turning two one-family dwellings into illegal hotels. Despite repeated enforcement and over $100,000 in fines, the two properties, located in low-density residential neighborhoods on Staten Island's North Shore, operated illegally for over five years and generated nearly 1,000 guest reviews for illegal stays.

Christian Klossner, Executive Director of the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement, said, "When illegal hotel operators persist in breaking the law, we will elevate our response to safeguard the character of the City's residential neighborhoods and protect New Yorkers and visitors from dangerous, deceptive, and overcrowded accommodations."

Utilizing at least 29 online listings which have generated approximately 1,000 reviews from guests, the defendants have operated illegal short-term rentals (for less than 30 days) in the two one-family buildings at 14 St. Marks Pl. and 163 Clinton Ave. in Staten Island. The defendants have advertised for a maximum of 18 transient guests in 14 St. Marks Pl. and up to 30 transient guests in 163 Clinton Ave., which could lead to dangerous overcrowding, serious fire hazards, and significant public nuisance at these locations.
The defendants' illegal hotel operation in the two buildings has grown steadily since it began at 14 St. Marks Place in June 2012 through Airbnb. The defendants expanded their operation by purchasing 163 Clinton Ave. in February 2014, receiving their first reviews for the new location on Airbnb in April 2014. Since 2017, the owners have involved an assistant to "co-host" and provide cleaning and maintenance services to the buildings. By January 2018, the defendants' portfolio had expanded to include at least 12 Airbnb listings, 14 TripAdvisor listings, 2 VRBO listings and 2 Homeaway listings for short-term rentals at the two buildings. 

The defendants in the suit include (i) the two buildings; (ii) Alissa Eason a/k/a Alissa Vasquez, who has ownership interests in both buildings; (iii) Sal Vasquez, husband of Defendant Eason, who has an ownership interest in 163 Clinton Ave.; and (iv) Amanda Perri, a "co-host" on the Airbnb listings who facilitates the illegal hotel operation in the two buildings.

The case is the twelfth lawsuit the City has brought against building owners or operators for illegal hotels. In December 2017, a landlord paid $1.2 million lump sum in what was the largest ever settlement with the City in an illegal hotel nuisance abatement case involving four buildings.

"Illegal hotel activity is seen as a Manhattan problem, but it can threaten housing, disrupt neighborhoods, and undermine legitimate tourism in any part of the city," said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. "Housing is housing. We have an affordable housing crisis in this city, and we can't allow scofflaw profiteers to arbitrage residential homes as unsafe, illegal transient rentals."

"It should come as no surprise that Illegal hotel operators spring up wherever opportunity presents itself. This lawsuit sends a clear message that the Office of Special Enforcement will not be stopped by rivers or ferry terminals, and will enforce the illegal hotel laws across the city," said Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal. "Airbnb's complete unwillingness to ensure its own listings are legal and preserve the safety and affordability of our city should give no peace to any commercial operators anywhere in the five boroughs."

"Today the Office of Special Enforcement is acting decisively to stop the operation of two single-family homes on Staten Island as illegal hotels. These hotels have persisted, despite the issuance of violations, vacate orders, criminal summonses, and civil penalties of more than $100,000. The OSE's lawsuit is yet another example of the innovative and effective actions taken under the leadership of Mayor de Blasio and Executive Director Klossner to stop illegal hotels from operating with impunity. Protecting our housing stock from illegal conversion is of critical importance as New York City continues to undergo an affordable housing crisis. The OSE's precedent-setting actions will help us to turn the tide on illegal hotels," said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

"Illegally converting two-family homes into commercial hotels undermines the quality of life that residential neighborhoods and communities expect.  Permanent residents are forced to live with tourists.  Their right to quiet enjoyment is disrupted, and their safety compromised, by an ever-changing stream of strangers on what should be family-friendly streets. Often these short-term visitors have noisy late-night parties before they are replaced by a new set of strangers the next evening. The West Side Neighborhood Alliance has long contended that illegal hotels are not simply a matter of violating the Multiple Dwelling Law.  One and two family homes illegally converted into short term stay facilities not only violate the Building and Zoning Codes, but the sanctity of our residential neighborhoods," Tom Cayler, West Side Neighborhood Alliance.

"Misuse of Airbnb as illegal hotels has put residents of Petrosino Square at health and safety risk, it has undermined our quality of life, it has torn the fabric of our community, and with the collusion of unscrupulous landlords, it has deregulated our affordable housing. We commend the OSE for taking strong action to restore to moderate-income New Yorkers the purloined units in Staten Island at 14 St. Mark's Place and 163 Clinton Avenue," Georgette Fleischer, President, Friends of Petrosino Square.