Neighbors say Hotel Toshi is a horrorshow hostel

Neighbors say Hotel Toshi is a horrorshow hostel
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A hipster hotel that occupies part of a converted loft building in Williamsburg has become such a crash pad that some renters are moving out.

Tenants of a six-story building on Driggs Avenue and S. Fifth Street are accusing the operators of Hotel Toshi of creating a nuisance by allowing their transient guests to throw rowdy late-night parties.

One tenant said she often feared for her safety when coming home late at night and is now negotiating with her landlord to break her one-year lease after two months.

“When I come home at 1 am by myself, I am thinking what if I get mugged in my own elevator?” said the tenant, who declined to give her name. “I shouldn’t be thinking these things.”

Others lambasted Hotel Toshi and the building’s owner, Shlomo Karpen, for keeping the building’s side door open, displacing tenant mail, renting rooms for private parties that have spilled into the hallway and lasted until 5 am.

Hotel Toshi President Robert Chan says that he has been responsive to the concerns of his guests and lease-holding tenants in the building. And he said that his staff has put a stop to parties that have gotten too loud or gone on too late.

“We have a 24-hour superintendent,” he said. “We serve the whole building. We clean the whole building. When I run a building, I think I do an OK job.”

Chan believes that his hotel is operating within the letter of the law, despite persistent charges to the contrary by his foes.

“We provide furnished rental apartments,” he said. “We’re not stuffing a bunch of people into one room, with barracks-style bunk beds [like other hostels in the neighborhood]. What we’re doing is completely legal and I believe we are in the right here.”

It is a question that the city has had difficulty answering.

Over the past few months, city officials have investigated dozens of illegal hostels and hotels, but confusion remains over what constitutes a legal business.

Last month, the city raided a commercial building on N. Sixth Street that contained two hostels. One was shuttered, but the other was allowed to remain open because it had the proper fire exits and sprinkler systems.

One city source told us that more raids are imminent, but another source, said that the Department of Housing and Preservation Development is “overwhelmed” by the proliferation of hostels and hotels throughout the city.

Some of those hotels are operating in commercial buildings, which is illegal. But it’s difficult for the city to crack down on hotels in residentially zoned buildings, thanks to a 2009 Appellate Court decision that ruled that a hotel is legal if a majority of single-room units in a building are leased to tenants for a period over 30 days a month.

That appears to be the case at 808 Driggs Ave., where fewer than 50 percent of the units are rented to visitors, while the majority is occupied by permanent residents. Still, the building’s lease-holding tenants are furious.

Two weeks ago about 20 of the building’s long-term renters met with Karpen to air their grievances.

According to one tenant, Karpen told them the hotel is making him more money than the leases, that it is here to stay, and if this was unacceptable, they could move out. Calls made to the landlord were unreturned.

One couple is taking the offer and is moving out after two months.

“We really loved this apartment. We thought we’d be here for five years. We definitely wanted to stay here,” said one tenant.

This residential building on Driggs Avenue also houses Hotel Toshi, which may or may not be illegal.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini