Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Daily News promotes illegal hotels

Last night, Larry Littlefield at Room Eight posted something intriguing on his blog:

"I was amused to read a review of bed and breakfast inns in Brooklyn in the Daily News today. Amused because if such establishments are located in residential zoning districts, as they all appear to be, they are illegal -- they violate the zoning resolution."

Oh, how could I NOT follow up on this statement?

Here goes. The Daily News article: Brooklyn's upscale inns offer places for a relative or a local escape

Some of the complaints about establishments profiled:

168 Bergen Street

601 Sixth St.

667 Argyle Road. Their Certificate of Occupancy which clearly states it's a one-family house.

15 Spencer Place

1510 Ocean Pkwy

30 Dekoven Court

Note in the DN article, each of these has their own website - it's being done right out in the open. Many of them have complaints dating back to last year that have yet to be inspected by the "Special Team" at DOB.

These folks more than likely are not charging hotel tax or claiming this income on their personal income taxes, but the Daily News encourages tourists to stay in their illegal hotels. You'd think the owners would be afraid of being profiled in the press, but their websites and enthusiastic participation with this journalistic effort just prove what a joke DOB is.

Maybe the Daily News will do part two on the Queens B&Bs. Can't decide if my favorite is this one with the blue futon or this one with the religious name.

29 comments:

italian girl said...

This "Special Team" -

this wouldn't happen to be the "Best Squad", would it?

Anonymous said...

As a matter of fact, Bed and Breakfasts are not hotels. and this is where some of the confusion lies. As to whether the establishments are or are not in compliance with NY sales and hotel tax - well, I'm the day manager for one and we've been charging and submitting both since we first opened.

Further, we are providing a much needed service to our local community: more than half of our guests are visiting family or friends in Brooklyn who don't have room in their own apartments for visitors.

I would encourage anyone looking at B&Bs to ASK if the property charges taxes as required by law: if you ask what the taxes will come to, and they can't answer, then it's doubtful that they're bothering about such things.

Finally, are they registered with their county clerk and do they have a Certificate of Authority on display? If not, they probably aren't a professional operation. Beyond that, are they a member of their local Better Business Bureau? If not, they probably aren't serious about offering quality service.

Julie said...

If you are not a hotel then why would you charge your guests hotel tax. And the first one linked to was found to be in violation by DOB since they actually made it to that one.

Anonymous said...

The city of New York requires us to charge hotel tax even though we are not a hotel: "The term "hotel" includes an apartment hotel, motel, boardinghouse, bed-and-breakfast, bungalow, or club, whether or not meals are served."

(see this link on the nyc.gov website: http://home2.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/business/business_tax_hotel.shtml#subject)

Ridgewoodian said...

That link seems to be incomplete. I found the page HERE.

Ridgewoodian said...

I’ve never stayed at a B&B here in New York but I have in other cities. When I travel I usually try to stay in them if I can since they’re usually quite a bit less expensive than hotels while being much more comfortable. The innkeepers that I’ve met – admittedly, a relatively small number – have all been exceptionally civic and neighborhood-minded. Which stands to reason since their business depends on strangers wanting to visit their cities and their particular neighborhoods. They have a vested interest in making sure that both remain safe and welcoming. And they’re essentially unofficial goodwill ambassadors of their cities. B&Bs also bring outside money into neighborhoods, to the benefit of local businesses. And they make the construction of new hotels, which this blog has decried, slightly less necessary. If there are zoning problems then I think it’s time to reexamine and amend the zoning laws. (Which was what Larry Littlefield said he attempted, unsuccessfully, to do.) For my own intellectual satisfaction I e-mailed the various B&Bs mentioned in the story to get their reactions (I figured Crappy hadn’t). Here’s one of the best responses:

“As far as zoning is concerned, the city sent us the paperwork to register with the city...
But we do have the right to have "Borders" as long as we declare the income and pay taxes.
It's a gray zone but as our reviews bear out, our service is great for the city and local families... and great for tourism.
In these economic times, what kind of nut wants to make it harder for people to visit NYC or make additional income?”

Queens Crapper said...

Once again, irrelevant points by Ridgewoodian. I really don't give a rat's ass if the people who are running these places think they're doing a public service. They have broken the zoning laws. Period. They never petitioned for a variance to have a bed-and-breakfast in a residential zone. They just did whatever the hell they felt like doing. Why have codes at all if you are going to look for excuses for people who break them? Did you ever stop to think that by renting these out to temporary guests that it takes away from the rental housing stock for permanent residents?

Anonymous said...

Yes, let's let these be converted into hotels. In fact, let's all move to Montana but be absentee owners of two family homes and rent them out as B&Bs. Where do you draw the line?

Ridgewoodian said...

QUEENS CRAPPER: They never petitioned for a variance to have a bed-and-breakfast in a residential zone.

Do you know that to be true, or is it another of your assumptions, like when you wrote that they "more than likely are not charging hotel tax or claiming this income on their personal income taxes"?

Once again, this from one of the B&Bs you spotlighted:

“As far as zoning is concerned, the city sent us the paperwork to register with the city..."

I’ve already formed my own opinion as to your reliability, I haven’t yet about this innkeeper, so I don’t know who to believe. What is entirely believable to me, though, is the possibility that they submitted all the necessary paperwork but – oops! – it got lost somewhere or the appropriate city departments were never informed. As you never fail to point out, city government is incompetent.

But let’s say you’re entirely correct, that the places are totally, 100% illegal and no amount of paperwork will make them right. What then? Would you have them shut down? I suppose that would be the only real remedy. But who, exactly, would that benefit? Certainly not the innkeepers, although they’re dastardly criminals, as evil as murderers, drug dealers, and illegal immigrants, so they can be dismissed without a second though. Not visitors to New York, who will have to find other, possibly less convenient, possibly more expensive accommodations. Not those who would LIKE to visit New York but decide not to because they can’t find acceptable lodgings. Not the City or the State governments, who won’t collect the hotel taxes that these places supposedly do charge. Not even the local neighborhoods, which would see no infusion of outside cash. (If I’m any barometer, local businesses do benefit. In the last couple of years I’ve stayed in the House of Two Urns in Wicker Park, Chicago a couple of times. Some businesses within a fifteen minute walk of the place that have benefited from my presence or the presence of my companions: several restaurants, a pastry/coffee shop, several bars, a convenience store, a grocery store, K-Mart, a number of shoe stores, the Chopin Theatre and the Division Street Russian and Turkish Baths.)

Or would you not shut them down and punish the criminals in some other way?

QUEENS CRAPPER: Why have codes at all if you are going to look for excuses for people who break them?

To quote George W.’s favorite philosopher: “Man was not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for man.” The law exists to serve the people by mediating between them and making clear their obligations one to another. It doesn’t exist “for its own good.” When it becomes outdated, when experience tests its limits, then it might well be time to amend it. I have no idea when the current zoning laws were adopted, whether bed and breakfasts were even contemplated then. If these places are, in fact, illegal – and they hardly seem to be opium dens or flophouses or even 445 Lafayette Streets – then the law certainly needs to be revisited. (Which is exactly what Larry Littlefield at Room Eight said he wanted to do when he worked for the City.) Properly licensed and regulated they could be a real boon to the community. Me, I’d be thrilled to see one or two in Ridgewood.

QUEENS CRAPPER: Did you ever stop to think that by renting these out to temporary guests that it takes away from the rental housing stock for permanent residents?

Ah, no zoning implications in that!

There are a number of people in my neighborhood who own two and three family homes but only occupy one unit and leave the rest empty. A very good friend of mine was essentially chucked out of his home of more than ten years by a certifiable landlord who decided (on a whim?) that he wanted the apartment empty. I don’t like this. I think it’s almost immoral when there’s a housing shortage. But I recognize that these owners do have property rights. Same with the innkeepers. Yes, they could be landlords instead of hosts, I suppose, but they choose to use their property in a different manner. In a manner that, it could be argued, brings certain benefits to the community. Requiring them to instead pack in tenants seems surprisingly Soviet Statist of you Crappy.

Queens Crapper said...

"As far as zoning is concerned, the city sent us the paperwork to register with the city" What does this prove? Did they send it in? Never mentioned if they actually registered or not. In fact, I can't be sure if you actually did write to these people or if you just said you did. You didn't provide the name of the person who actually wrote back to you.

When you wrote to the innkeepers, did you ask for copies of their Certificate of Registration with the Department of Finance and Certificates of Authority empowering the operator to collect the Hotel Room Occupancy Tax or even just the numbers from those documents so you could call the agencies and check? Or did you just ask them if they collected it? Also, now since you are so helpful, you can write to BSA and find out if they applied for a variance. Report back to us in a week. The rest of what you wrote is really not relevant. It's not my responsibility to legalize people's establishments or ponder whether the zoning code is fair. They have the responsibility with complying with current zoning codes and the city has the responsibility of enforcing it. As you can see from the first B&B linked, the owner was found to be in violation by operating a hotel illegally out of a home. When the DOB gets around to the others, the owners will probably get fined as well. Don't like it? Petition the DCP. I am fine with it.

Anonymous said...

"Ah, no zoning implications in that!"

Of course there are. Affects the density of a community, services provided, etc. You can't have a defacto 8 room hotel but it's listed as a one-family house. This impacts sewers, electricity, etc. This is contributing to overdevelopment.

Fred said...

"If these places are, in fact, illegal – and they hardly seem to be opium dens or flophouses or even 445 Lafayette Streets"

If I walk on the sidewalk to get to my garbage pails in my driveway with a beer in my hand, it's illegal, too. Somehow, I've managed to comply although I think the law is silly. The laws are laws. The point is not whether Larry Littlefield or anyone else thinks they are silly. It's what's on the books now. If these folks want to operate in protest of what they consider to be an unfair law, then they will deal with the consequences. However, I doubt that's why they're doing it. Plenty of ways to make money legally in the city.

Anonymous said...

I’ve already formed my own opinion as to Ridgewoodian's reliability. He lives in an idealistic fantasyland and is exactly the type of voter that the tweeders love.

Larry Littlefield said...

Just so you know, just because something is illegal, doesn't mean it's "illegal." There are a host of Department of Buildings interpretations of gray areas that few people know about.

The reference to "borders" is based on a state law that says such are allowed, up to as I recall four. What is the difference between having a border and having an additional apartment in the building? By DOB interpretation, it depends on whether the border can lock their door.

As I wrote, having a hard clear set of rules and "law is the law" enforcement would be ideal. But there are plenty of things that shouldn't be illegal that are, or are just left out because things have changed, so fixing the existing mess would be required first. For use regulations, if a type of business didn't exist in 1961, chances are it isn't listed, and is thus "illegal" anywhere in NYC.

And fixing the code is politically impossible in a political culture that favors differential enforcement -- ie. different rules for different people. As it is nothing is enforced, even things that should be.

You want a real laugh? Read the sign regulations, then walk down any commercial street. That is a mess that even I, as my less cynical youthful self, would not have dared to try to address.

Queens Crapper said...

Larry - I couldn't agree with you more. Take for example, the Smith Street situation. In Carroll Gardens, 20% of a foundation being poured is enough to get the project stopped with due to new zoning rules. In Queens, that same project would have been grandfathered in. It's all about how much you make, where you live and what color your skin is.

Ridgewoodian said...

QUEENS CRAPPER: Report back to us in a week.

Well, since you’ve already indicated your doubt as to whether I originally wrote to the innkeepers I doubt that you'd believe anything I might report back. So why should I bother? Also, as I’ve had to say to thousands upon thousands of undergrads (and a surprising number of grads and professors, too): “You’re a big boy (or girl) now; it’s time for you to do your own research.” Why don’t YOU e-mail these people, these people whose names you’ve published, who you’ve accused (or opined – this is an opinion blog after all) of being tax cheats, whose livelihoods I think you’d like to destroy (although, to be fair, I can’t be sure about that since you never did answer my question as to what you would do with these places if they were found to be irredeemably illegal). That would be an excellent followup post which I’d love to see. But I don’t anticipate ever seeing it.

Queens Crapper said...

"Why don’t YOU e-mail these people, these people whose names you’ve published."

I never published anyone's name and I don't know why anyone who actually did what they were supposed to do would feel threatened by what I did post. All they'd have to do is produce the paperwork, something at least one of them apparently failed to do when the DOB inspector showed up.

You really need to stop getting your panties in a bunch about what is posted on this blog. Solution? Since you love to write and think others care about what you think, why not author your own blog? They're free. I never thought anyone would care what I have to say, but I started this and it just took off and is more popular than ever.

Anonymous said...

Hell....come to Flushing where illegal Korean "hotels" abound!

There are four doing business in the Broadway/north area alone (around 161 Street)!

(Then there are the bona-fide hot sheets variety offering various services further southwest)!

Anonymous said...

B&Bs are still required (I believe) to pay hotel occupancy taxes!

How many operate under the radar?

Ridgewoodian said...

QUEENS CRAPPER: I never published anyone's name...

Their names were on those documents you posted.

QUEENS CRAPPER: You really need to stop getting your panties in a bunch about what is posted on this blog.

I go free style, actually. And you don't seem particularly commando yourself.

QUEENS CRAPPER: Since you love to write and think others care about what you think, why not author your own blog? They're free.
I never thought anyone would care what I have to say, but I started this and it just took off and is more popular than ever.


Perhaps I will start one one day. Although "authoring" is a bit of a stretch for what you do, isn't it? Aren't you more of an editor? (Not that that's a dishonorable thing to be.) Unless all this is a strange bit of literary performance art. I've assumed this whole time that you're a cranky middle aged white guy. But really, that's as baseless an assumption as your opinion that those innkeepers haven't paid taxes or some of your readers' conclusion that I'm working for some political campaign or other. Maybe you're a precociously gifted young girl or a gay illegal Mexican, and you're having a good laugh at everyone.

Whoever or whatever you are your blog does seem to have a bit of a following. (What would we call your own dittoheads? Not the "tweeded" certainly. How about the "Crap'd"?) Which is why I read it: to find out what my neighbors are thinking. And if I sometimes respond it's because I can't stand the thought that, "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Since it's free it's not taking money out of you pocket. If my opinions are bullshit, they're easily ignored or laughed at. And if they have some validity to them, well, let the sun shine in.

Queens Crapper said...

"Their names were on those documents you posted."

Incorrect. I never posted any documents. I posted links to publicly posted complaints on the NYC government's website. Those are the owners of the houses and their information is automatically generated by the DOB system. They may not be the ones responsible for running the B&B on premises. So if you have an issue with their names being posted, contact whoever administers the DOB's website.

Ridgewoodian said...

QUEENS CRAPPER: I never posted any documents. I posted links to publicly posted complaints on the NYC government's website.

Document: "Something written, inscribed, etc., which furnishes evidence or information upon any subject, as a manuscript, title-deed, tomb-stone, coin, picture, etc." - Oxford English Dictionary

We could quibble over what you want to call what you linked to - documents, complaints, etc. Whatever. The fact remains that they contained the names of people that you all but called criminals (zoning violators AND tax cheats), or, under you newest theory, innocent (?) victims of criminals. As I've written before: in a more honorable age you would have been challenged to pistols or swords at dawn, or had to live with the disgrace of cowardice. But I suppose what we lack in honor we make up for in domesticated civilization and we just let the sour among us rave and rave and rave.

You STILL haven't answered my question as to what you would do with these places.

Queens Crapper said...

Why would we need to do anything with them? They are permanent housing units and that's what they should remain as and be used as. There's a housing shortage not a hotel room shortage in this city, remember?

Once again, if these folks are doing everything by the book, they should have no problem having their names on a website showing they have complaints against them. Everything will be decided in their favor and they will be in the clear when the dust is settled.

Ridgewoodian said...

QUEENS CRAPPER:Once again, if these folks are doing everything by the book....

But...what...if...they're...not?

What if they really are as illegal as you seemed to think they were when you wrote, "...the Daily News encourages tourists to stay in their illegal hotels" and no paperwork can possibly make it right? (And by "illegal" I take it you mean not that they're crack houses or firetraps - you haven't alleged that - but that they're situated in areas not zoned for their particular business.) What would you do? Would you uphold the letter of the law and shut them down, force the owners to use the places strictly for permanent housing? Would you fine them heavily? Would you allow them to continue operating? Or would you do something else? What's the remedy?

Queens Crapper said...

Yes, they have to prove that they are no longer using it for that purpose. They can always go to the BSA if they want to claim a hardship and continue to operate as a B&B. That's what anyone else with a non-conforming use is supposed to do.

Ridgewoodian said...

QUEENS CRAPPER: Yes, they have to prove that they are no longer using it for that purpose. They can always go to the BSA if they want to claim a hardship and continue to operate as a B&B.

Finally! An answer!

Good to know that you'd at least let them beg to keep their livelihood in the face of what sounds like the most technical of violations. You're not nearly as hardhearted as I've been lead to believe.

Queens Crapper said...

The BSA was actually mentioned in my first reply to you. You quoted it.

Ridgewoodian said...

QUEENS CRAPPER: The BSA was actually mentioned in my first reply to you.

But you never answered until just now whether you think they should cease operation as B&Bs, which was the Yes or No I was trying to get out of you.

Still seems a bit harsh to me, especially since, in my personal experience at least, B&Bs mostly appeal to crunchy granola types and chill middle aged couples - hardly the type to terrorize neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

I'm tellin' ya....
Gallagher is still pissed off so he's posting as "Ridgewoodian" just to get his licks in and attempt to cause some grief!

Pinky's obviously got a lot of time on his hands now and the "Patriot" blog is a boring bust!

Thanks a.k.a. Joe from Ridgewood, Sal, Salvatore, whoever.

You're part of the show that increases Queens Crap's ratings
(which are off the charts)!

I guess an awful lot of people like
reading our truthfully frank, unfettered comments!

Not like the manipulated PR stuff
you find in the clubhouse weekly press....eh ?