Landlord sued for converting building into illegal hotel rooms

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NEW YORK – The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement is bringing a lawsuit against a Manhattan landlord, Dr. Philip Baldeo, who turned his four-story walkup into an illegal hotel through www.Airbnb.com, which operated for years despite persistent complaints, enforcement actions and fines against the operation.

Christian Klossner, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, said, in a press release: “If a landlord persists in illegal activity despite complaints from residents and violations from the City, then we will elevate our response to safeguard its rent-stabilized housing stock and protect New Yorkers and visitors from the dangers of illegal hotels.”

Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in the press release: “There must be zero tolerance for illegal hotels. In addition to depleting our housing stock, illegal hotels put lives at risk by flouting the basic fire and safety regulations that apply to hotels. This lawsuit sends a strong message to landlords across the city that we will not tolerate such practices.”

Illegal transient use in the nine-unit Chelsea building at 156 West 15th Street (near 7th Avenue) appeared to increase over time. In August 2014, the Office of Special Enforcement uncovered two apartments being unlawfully rented while in September of 2017 OSE investigations found illegal hotel use in six out of nine units, the press release said.

The building has been the subject of at least thirteen illegal hotel complaints since 2014, 23 building and fire violations, three criminal summonses, and one advertising summons. Currently, more than $11,000 worth of penalties for building and fire violations have been imposed or paid.

The case represents the eleventh lawsuit the City has brought against landlords or operators for illegal hotels.

Last month, a landlord paid a $1.2 million lump sum in what was the largest ever settlement with the City in an illegal hotel nuisance abatement case.

In November 2017, another building owner who illegally converted dozens of housing units in two buildings into hotel rooms agreed to forfeit $1 million, which included a $201,500 payment to the City plus a $798,500 credit amount for approximately three years of rent forgone.

The neighborhood of Chelsea has been particularly hard-hit by illegal short-term rentals and the depletion of rent stabilized apartments.

The defendants in the suit include 156 West 15th Street Chelsea LLC, its head officer and managing agent Dr. Philip Baldeo and operator Miguel Guzman.

“Good laws are the first step, but they can’t work without robust outreach and, when it’s necessary, enforcement,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “When landlords scoff at the law and turn residential apartments into illegal hotel rentals, it’s the city’s job to act.”

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