By Phineas Rueckert
The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement filed a lawsuit in Queens County Supreme Court Wednesday claiming that 13 individuals and entities illegally operated a network of short-term rental properties through Airbnb in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx.
The complaint names Astoria resident Elvis Tominovic as the leader of the operation, and states the scheme generated $5 million from 60,000 guests at 36 buildings.
The lawsuit alleges that the individuals misled Airbnb guests into believing that short-term rentals were “safe, sanitary and legal,” when in fact they were none of the above. The city also accused the defendants of creating multiple listings and accounts in order to avoid detection from law enforcement agencies.
The lawsuit comes after guests complained of unsanitary and unsafe conditions, such as apartments having no fire alarms, heating, electricity or even windows, the city said.
“Across the city, communities are threatened by an industry that allows illegal operators to mislead visitors and turn housing into profit,” OSE Executive Director Christian Klossner said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve to have their housing protected, and visitors deserve safe, legal accommodations when they visit our city.”
The operation was mostly concentrated in Astoria and Ridgewood, the lawsuit states. Both neighborhoods are experiencing rapid income growth and gentrification and have large immigrant populations vulnerable to displacement.
The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants often failed to disclose critical information to short-term tenants in online advertisements. Operators also allegedly “coached” guests to lie about the nature of their stays and were told to refuse access to inspectors.
The defendants raked in a fortune through Airbnb, according to the lawsuit. One defendant, a property manager for Acropolis Buildings in Astoria, earned nearly $900,000 by Airbnb between 2015 and 2019, the lawsuit alleges.
UPDATE 6/20: Airbnb provided a comment regarding the situation.
"We have long said that we want to work with the City on a regulatory framework that will provide for effective enforcement against illegal hotel operators. After working with the City and providing data in response to valid legal process, we will continue to urge the City to come to the table, so that we can find a solution that addresses our shared enforcement priorities while still protecting the rights of regular New Yorkers," a spokesperson told the Eagle.