In the midst of a heady campaign season, southern Brooklyn council members say they are being unfairly and anonymously hit with 311 complaints — but not for the reasons they may have thought.
Last month, the city’s Department of Buildings showed up at Republican Council Member Ari Kagan’s Gravesend apartment for an inspection after receiving a report that he was illegally using the unit as a short-term rental.
Complaints accuse pols of illegally converting homes, offices
According to the complaint disposition history, the case was first assigned to OSE inspectors on July 20. After inspecting the home, DOB officials said there was no evidence of illegal activity and determined there was no reason to issue a violation.
Kagan, who was home at the time of the inspection, said in a statement he was a victim of “unwarranted attacks” from his political opponent intended to undermine his campaign for the District 47 City Council seat — implying that Democratic Council Member Justin Brannan, who is also running in District 47, had filed the complaint.
“This ‘someone’ can file as many complaints as they wish. My family was shaken and startled — but we will not be intimidated,” he said in a statement. “This ‘someone’ will not scare me and this ‘someone’ will not chase me or my family out of our home.”
But Brannan has also been frustrated by anonymous 311 complaints filed against his district office and home dating back as early as 2020. Inspections found no violations at the location.
“I’ve had plenty of bogus and unsubstantiated 311 complaints lodged against my home, my wife’s business, and my district office,” Brannan said.
The accusations vary in severity but all similarly accuse the pols for alleged illegal conversions of a hotel inside their homes.
The two southern Brooklyn pols are not the only to be targeted for for faux illegal conversions. Government officials across the city including Mayor Eric Adams, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and a host of city council representatives have dealt with similar complaints, as first reported by Gothamist.
“I’ve always assumed it was the brilliant work of my desperate and bumbling political foes so I was interested to hear it may actually be a coordinated thing targeting my colleagues and I in the city council,” Brannan told Brooklyn Paper. “No matter who is behind it, weaponizing 311 is wrong. Abusing the system is not just a waste of taxpayer money, it’s harassment.”
The DOB allows anyone to make a complaint about any city address.
According to a DOB spokesperson, the department responds to and investigates every 311 complaint they receive.
“There is a triage process, but that is primarily to determine the timeframe for us to send an inspector to the scene, same day for serious situations, or a later date for less serious situations,” the spokesperson said.
Short-term rental crackdown
Complaints began to trickle in shortly before the city started enforcing a new Short-Term Rental Registration law on Sept. 11.
The bill referred, to as Local Law 18, now requires short-term rentals hosts to register with the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement and prohibits services like AirBnB, VRBO and Booking.com to process transactions from unregistered locations.
“Registration creates a clear path for hosts who follow the City’s longstanding laws and protects travelers from illegal and unsafe accommodations, while ending the proliferation of illegal short-term rentals,” said Christian Klossner, executive director of the OSE.
Brannan co-sponsored the bill when it was introduced in the city council in 2021. Kagan was not yet in office when the bill was passed.
The crackdown now requires renters to be permanent occupants of the units they list, keeping landlords from holding entire apartments exclusively for short-term rentals. OSE also plans to better regulate lists of prohibited buildings, where temporary rentals are completely banned. These locations include New York City Housing Authority apartments and rent-regulated buildings.
There are an estimated 14,470 Airbnb rentals in Brooklyn, according to reports, but it is suspected that none of those renters are licensed under the city’s new law.