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City Sues Astoria-Based Operators of Illegal Airbnb Ring

Nine of the 16 buildings at Acropolis Gardens were part of housing scheme (Photo: Queens Post)

June 19, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan

The city has launched a lawsuit against a number of Astoria residents accused of using Airbnb and other rental platforms to illegally rent out housing in 36 buildings across the City.

The operators, according to the suit, converted 60 housing units into illegal hotels, and between 2015 and 2019 rented them out to more than 20,000 people. Many units were unsanitary and hazardous, according to the suit filed Wednesday in Queens County Supreme Court.

The lawsuit names Elvis Tominovic, an Astoria resident, and 12 others–including several of his relatives–as leading the operation. The majority of the buildings and units were located in Astoria.

Nine of the 16 buildings at Acropolis Gardens were used as part of the scheme.

“The defendants have collaborated…in a wide-ranging operation to profit from illegal short-term rentals that have converted dozens of permanent residential dwelling units into de facto hotels, and misled thousands of transient guests into booking such unlawful and unsafe accommodations,” the city’s complaint reads.

Under city and state law, it is illegal to rent out an apartment for less than 30 days unless the legal tenant is residing in the apartment at the same time. Short term rentals, according to the city, damage neighborhood stability by reducing the supply of safe and affordable permanent housing units.

The investigation, led by The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement (OSE), revealed that some of the properties had been structurally altered and illegally jam packed with extra beds.

A three-family dwelling located at 12-10 31st Dr., for example, was found to have been converted into 12 separate hotel rooms with a total of 24 beds.

The city alleges that the defendants created more than 200 listings on Airbnb using 28 separate accounts. Over their five years of operation, the defendants brought in more than $5 million in revenue, according to the complaint, which was deposited into a series of shared and connected bank accounts.

The defendants would allegedly coach their guests into lying about their stay to any questioning authorities, and would have the guests deny access to city inspectors.

Reviews of the units revealed that they were often dirty and overcrowded, lacked windows, and had no heat and hot water. Guests indicated that the operators had misled them through inaccurate Airbnb listings.

“Across the city, communities are threatened by an industry that allows illegal operators to mislead visitors and turn housing into profit,” said Christian Klossner, Executive Director of OSE.

Tominovic could not be reached for comment.

Airbnb by Queens Post on Scribd

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14 Comments

Rita

This story reminds me of how the rest of Astoria is turning out. Many landlords/owners fleeing Astoria due to the crowds, traffic, dirt, and noise and renting out their places to people willing to over pay for crappy apartments. Having no sense of community around here gives owners the impression that they can do whatever they want.

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John

That place looks so dirty from the outside. It also smells like sewer, curry and garlic whenever i pass by.

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2+2

How did defendants access so many apartments?

According to The Queens Daily Eagle, “The defendants raked in a fortune through Airbnb, according to the lawsuit. One defendant, a property manager for Acropolis Buildings in Astoria, earned nearly $900,000 by Airbnb between 2015 and 2019, the lawsuit alleges.”
Oddly, that individual does not appear to be named in the lawsuit.

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Noo Yooka

The Acropolis has been a problem for years. It’s a shame too. The location is prime. Someday there will be a massive fire and people will die.

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Anonymous

My building DID catch fire when I lived in the Acropolis in 2011. Never even got my security deposit back. Wonder if they’re the same people making millions in this scam.

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ralph

Since they violated their leases, they should all be evicted. Additionally, they should pay for the apartments to be returned to normal and then fined. Moreover, their address locations should be blacklisted by Air BnB so that they can never be offered again

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Wolfsbane

Why would they need to convert apartments to do this? All you need is a key to to rent them as hotel rooms.

Why would AirBnB agree to blacklist them when they’re making money from the rentals? That’s their business model. Duh!

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Noo Yooka

The Acropolis is an interesting case because most of these folks are in coop apartments, so are to some degree owners. We’ll see how it shakes out. They have had multiple issues with financing of the building as a whole and more than one default on mortgages pertaining to the property. They have had to be rescued by Astoria lawmakers at least twice within my memory, once in the ’90s with a Japanese bank (Fuji) and more recently around 2008.

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A

These are not renters. The city does not go after renters who do this, only condo/coop and building owners because they feel like they are hurting hotel tax revenue and circumventing government controlled housing stock.

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Anonymous

this place is a mess illegal hook up of gas lines which is true drugs all over full of bed bugs should I go on.

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