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How Do You Find Out If the Hotel You Just Booked Is Illegal?

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to Today's topic: short term rental laws!

Hotels in New York City, as we will learn this week many times over, are really, really expensive. And while the idea of just going for the cheapest hotel and/or hostel that the internet has to offer may seem like a decent idea, hotels can also be tricky in that some of them are not technically legal hotels. Staying in one of New York's many not-actually-hotels might work out, or the whole place might get shut down by the Department of Buildings right in the middle of your trip. If that scenario sounds like something you want to avoid, you probably want to check out the dirt-cheap hotel you just found before you book a stay.

Although the definition of what an illegal hotel is seems semi-ambiguous due the war being waged between the city and short-term rental site AirBnB, it's actually fairly straightforward (for the moment). According to an FAQ that Senator Liz Krueger released in December, illegal hotel activity consists of:

When permanent residential apartments in buildings with three units or more are rented out for less than 30 days to transient visitors instead of residents, that's illegal hotel activity. Illegal hotel operations can range from one unit, to a few units here and there, to large-scale operations, with dozens or even hundreds of units converted to full-time illegal hotel use. Since renting out some guy's individual apartment is pretty obviously against the rules but also probably not a huge deal (unless you're planning a "BBW Panty Raid Party"), we're going to focus on the "large-scale operations."

The primary resource that we have at our disposal is the Department of Building's Building Information System, which can be used to look up any complaints and/or violations that a building may have incurred. Let's walk through the system using, as an example, 70 Lefferts Place, a landmarked mid-19th century house in Clinton Hill that was, until recently, offering bunk beds for $25/night without a hotel or rooming house certificate of occupancy. After the DOB caught wind of the operation and shut it down the house went on the market for $2.5 million. So, let's get started:

First we select the borough and type in the address.

That brings us to a page with links to various things, including Department of Building and Environmental Control Board violations. Click on the ECB link.

That brings us to a list of violations dating from 2006 to 2011. Let's click on the most recent one.

And that brings us to the actual violation summary: "Occupany contrary to that allowed by bldg dept records .... Bldg occupied as a primary use transient hotel/hostel." Surprise! The ramshackle old house renting out $25 bunk beds in Brooklyn did not turn out to be a legal hotel. Who would have guessed.
· DOB buildings search [NYC]
· An Introduction to New York's Short Term Rental Laws [Curbed]
· How To Research A Building Before You Move In [Curbed]
· Hotels Week 2014 [Curbed]