City Sues Operators of Illegal Ridgewood Hotel

By David Brand

It turns out the mayor wasn’t full of hot air when he said the city would crack down on illegal hotel operators.

On Wednesday, the mayor announced a major lawsuit against three illegal hotel operators who earned roughly $1 million while hosting visitors at seven locations around the city, including one building on Menahan Street in Ridgewood. It’s the first lawsuit filed against operators across multiple boroughs

“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,” de Blasio said.

The city contends that for more than three years, the operators violated short-term rental laws by using different host accounts with fictitious identities to illegally advertise at least 15 housing units in seven buildings across three boroughs.

The city said defendants Alexandra Pavlenok, Ekaterina Plotnikova and Stepan Solovyev misled guests about the legality of the listings by using false addresses and deceptive explanations for guests’ interaction with city inspectors.

“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,” said Christian Klossner, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement. “We’re taking action to preserve the city’s housing stock and to defend visitors’ rights to safe and legal accommodations.”

In addition to the Ridgewood site, the defendants allegedly ran short-term rental hotels at five addresses in Lower Manhattan and the West Village and on Gates Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

The city reports that OSE has issued 80 violations from Department of Buildings inspectors, a partial vacate order based on “imminent danger to life or public safety,” nine fire violation orders, five fire summonses and one fire criminal summons issued to the owners of the buildings

Seven OSE advertising summonses were issued directly to operators.

In July, two Queens landlords were hit with major penalties totaling tens of thousands of dollars for the illegal conversion and transient use of their buildings.

Building owner Melissa Sosa was fined $51,200 in penalties for the illegal conversion of a single-family home into six transient use furnished rooms, one single room occupancy dwelling and one furnished apartment, all with locking devices, at 33-13 98th Street in Jackson Heights.

HBC Corona LLC was fined $48,200 in penalties for the illegal transient use of 36 different apartments at 32-45 112th Street in Corona.

Amid an affordable housing crisis and pressure from hotel lobbying groups, the New York City Council has cracked down on the use of housing stock for Airbnb and other transient services.

In April, the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement fined a Manhattan couple $1 million for using websites like Airbnb to illegally list at least seven units inside Manhattan buildings, Politico reported.

“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 Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “I am thankful that the Office of Special Enforcement is continuing its work to combat this pressing problem. The Council will continue to address this crisis in any way it can as well.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at an event last month. // Photo courtesy of Mayor’s Office