Guests at Brooklyn’s illegal hotels could soon be checking out for good — if Albany has its way.
The state Senate passed a bill last Friday that would close a much-abused loophole that prevented the city from acting against unlicensed hotels if more than half of the tenants in a given building were on short, day-to-day, hotel-style rentals.
It is expected to pass the Assembly as early as this week.
Mayor Bloomberg called the bill necessary to “clear up ambiguities” that have hindered the city’s ability to enforce illegal hotel conversions.
“Illegal hotels [create] fire safety and security hazards and quality-of-life concerns in residential neighborhoods,” said Bloomberg. “The bill provides a clear definition of what constitutes transient and permanent occupancy, which would allow city agencies to issue summonses and initiate other enforcement actions against illegal hotels.”
Williamsburg has been the epicenter for the spread of hotels and hostels in recent years, which has coincided with the neighborhood’s real-estate swoon.
Even before the bill passes in Albany, the Mayor’s Office for Special Enforcement is poised to launch further investigations throughout the neighborhood, sources said. The goal is to locate illegally converted buildings — and the focus is on a condominium on Driggs Avenue that is partially occupied by Hotel Toshi, a boutique transient hotel catering to international travelers.
In many Williamsburg hotels, landlords have sought out hospitality companies, such as Hotel Toshi, to keep vacant units occupied as they try to stay afloat in a difficult real-estate market.
These hotels have sought to exploit existing law, legislators say, by renting fewer than 50 percent of the units in a building to long-term tenants, while setting aside the remainder as hotel units, which was permitted under prior codes.
The new legislation requires that all units in a residential building be occupied by the permanent tenants unless the building’s certificate of occupancy or its zoning reflects hotel usage. If not, the city can crack down.
Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Williamsburg), who helped craft the bill, called the Senate vote “a great victory” and promised to support the legislation to curb the “rapid proliferation” of illegal hotels in his district.
“These illegal hotels are taking away housing from long-time residents of our community, and often pose safety risks to their guests,” said Lopez. “It is our responsibility as legislators to ensure the availability of affordable housing and the safety of all residents and visitors.”
But Hotel Toshi President Robert Chan said that the unintended consequences of the bill’s passage are “pretty severe.”
“If we take away affordable housing for tourists visiting the city, we will take away avenues for tourist dollars spending money,” said Chan. “Once you don’t have an affordable option for middle class tourists to come, it will close of tourism for only the super-rich.”
©2010 Community News Group
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