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.