Owner fined for tenant’s violation

13-15 Christopher Street. Image Credit: Google Maps

Tenant used property as an illegal short-term rental. On April 12, 2019, the owner purchased a single-family dwelling with a rear building at 13-15 Christopher Street in the West Village in Manhattan.  The tenant had been advertising the property on Homeaway.com, a vacation rental website owned by the Expedia Group. At the time of the purchase, the owner claimed not to have knowledge of the illegal transient use. On May 10, 2019, Buildings issued a transient use summons against the owner for the front building—a different building at the same address. Subsequently on July 3, 2019, a Department of Buildings officer observed that the owner’s rear building was occupied by six short-term guests. The officer issued four summonses to the owner charging an Aggravated I penalty for a recurring condition.

At a hearing on the four summonses the owner argued that liability could not attach because the owner had no knowledge of the transient use and could not have discovered the illegal use through reasonable diligence. The owner contended that a property manager and handyman regularly visited the property and never saw anything amiss. OATH Hearing Officer N. Tolciss agreed with the owner and dismissed all four violations.

On appeal, the OATH Hearings Division Appeals Board (“Board”) reversed the hearing officer’s decision. The Board found that because the owner received the prior summons for the front building, the owner should have verified that the rear building was not being similarly used.  Further, the Board concluded that because the Homeaway.com screenshots indicated 18 user reviews, it showed that transient use in the rear building had been going on for some time. The Board ruled that the owner could have learned of the transient use through reasonable diligence and could not use ignorance as a defense.  The owner was fined $8,750 in civil penalties.

DOB v. 13-15 Christopher Street, LLC, OATH Appeal No. 2000524 (August 13, 2020).

By: Scott Y. Matsuda (Scott is a New York Law School student, Class of 2022.)


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