In a major ruling that could effect hundreds of apartments on the Upper West Side, a New York appeals court said that an SRO building on 79th street can’t rent rooms to tourists for less than 30 days.
The owner of the Imperial Court at 307 West 79th Street, a rent-stabilized Single Room Occupancy (SRO) building, argued that he should be able to rent the rooms on a weekly basis to tourists. While the city changed the law to make it harder to rent rooms on a short-term basis, owner Ron Edelstein said the Imperial should be grandfathered in. While he prevailed at the district court level, the appeals court said that the Imperial can only rent the rooms for 30 days or more. (Edelstein had once threatened to turn the site into a homeless shelter if he’s not allowed to use it as a hotel.)
SRO rooms were designed for low-income individuals willing to share a kitchen and bathroom in exchange for inexpensive rent. But it’s much more lucrative for landlords to rent out rooms to tourists — while SRO tenants often pay less than $1,000 a month, tourists will fork over more than $100 a day.
The ruling affects “a lot of families and others, including tourists and people living paycheck to paycheck, or people who are down on their luck and need a place to stay for a week or two,” the Imperial’s lawyer, Charles Chehebar, told The Post.
But local officials hailed the ruling as a victory for affordable housing.
“This is a victory for affordable housing and for New Yorkers who need an affordable place to live, and we look forward to seeing these units returned to the affordable housing stock,” said Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal. “It’s also a relief for the Imperial Court tenants who have had to live with tourists coming in and out of their building at all hours of the night.”
“If the court had ruled the other way,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, one of the authors of the 2010 law, “it would have crippled City law enforcement and allowed thousands of illegal hotel rooms to continue to operate.”
Assembly member Linda Rosenthal said she has been trying to raise the alarm about this problem for years — she even booked a two-night stay in the Imperial in 2007 to showcase the problem — and feels vindicated by the ruling.
We explained the issue of SROs being used as hotels in depth here.