After a lengthy legal battle, the owners of three Upper West Side residential buildings have agreed to stop using their properties as low-cost hotels. The city hailed the deal as a victory for the community, but it has raised new concern among some residents about the buildings’ future.
The litigation, a zoning suit begun in 2007, long predates a state law passed last year making it illegal to rent out most residential rooms and apartments for less than 30 days. The settlement, reached last week between the city and the three buildings, on West 94th and West 95th Streets, effectively ensures that the owners comply with the new law and levies $600,000 in civil penalties against the owners. Each building has about 200 single-occupancy rooms, with shared amenities.
“It will deter others from illegally renting permanent housing to transient occupants for hotel use, and we hope that it will help preserve affordable housing and enhance quality of life for city residents,” Deborah Rand, an assistant commissioner at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said in a statement on Tuesday. The buildings, as named in court documents, are the Montroyal at 315 West 94th Street; the Pennington at 316 West 95th Street; and the Continental, at 330 West 95th Street.
While some residents might welcome the exodus of backpacking travelers from the neighborhood, others wondered how the building owners would replace the lost hotel revenue and worry that the owners will sell or lease the buildings to the city or private contractors for use as homeless shelters.
“There is a serious concern among the community that the Bloomberg administration will use a ruling like this to put homeless residents side-by-side” with the buildings’ long-term tenants, said Aaron Biller, president of Neighborhood in the Nineties, a local association.
Residents’ fears were stoked by events earlier this year, when the Department of Homeless Services signed a contract with a nonprofit group to run a men’s homeless shelter at the Alexander, another former hotel on West 94th Street. The plan fell through, but Mr. Biller said he received letters from residents who said they would prefer the budget hotels’ fleeting occupants, many of them European tourists, to the residents of homeless shelters or people in drug-treatment programs.
“If you tell them that there’s a choice about noisy tourists or special populations,” said Mr. Biller, “they’d tell you in a heartbeat that they’d rather have tourists.” The illegal hotel rooms rented for as much as $100 a night.
David M. Satnick, who represents the owners of the three buildings in the new settlement, said he was not aware of any plans to sell or lease the buildings to the city, and a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services, Barbara Brancaccio, said her agency had no current or past contracts involving any of the three buildings.
The deal to put a homeless shelter in the Alexander, which was opposed by residents and the community board, was dropped because several long-term residents of the building, including at least one family, refused to vacate their rooms and because other sites were available, Ms. Brancaccio said.
But she added, “That doesn’t mean that in the future, if we have a capacity need and the property becomes vacant, the project couldn’t very well move ahead.”
Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side and lobbied against the deal at the Alexander, said that while permanent housing for the homeless is needed, the Alexander and the three buildings involved in last week’s settlement are best suited for working people in need of cheap housing.
“Regular, low-income New Yorkers need a place to live, and this is the perfect place,” Ms. Brewer said. She added, “But I do not want homeless people. I do not want people sent from the city.”