Destabilization with Extreme Prejudice

Tribeca Resident Ordered Evicted for Subletting Apartment on Airbnb

An image from the GoFundMe page created by Eileen Hickey, as she sought to raise money to fight eviction from her rent-stabilized apartment in Tribeca.An image from the GoFundMe page created by Eileen Hickey, as she sought to raise money to fight eviction from her rent-stabilized apartment in Tribeca.

A 72-year-old Tribeca artist is facing eviction from the rent-stabilized apartment she has occupied for more than 40 years, after a judge ruled that she illegally rented her home out via Airbnb. Eileen Hickey allegedly posted notices on the website that brokers short-term rentals starting in 2012, which her landlord, Robert Moskowitz detected two years later, causing him to commence legal action, seeking to nullify her lease.

The landlord alleged that Ms. Hickey charged $250 per night (or more than $4,500 per month) for the apartment that occupies the entire fourth floor of 460 Greenwich Street (near the corner of Watts Street). Ms. Hickey’s monthly rent for this apartment is slightly more than $1,500.

Such short-term sublets violate New York State’s Multiple Dwelling Law, which explicitly bans “unhosted” rentals of fewer than 30 days in any dwelling that is home to three or more families. (An exception is granted for tenants who continue to occupy their apartments while the sub-tenants to whom they are renting space are present.)

The building at 460 Greenwich Street, where the landlord successfully argued that Ms. Hickey had illegally sublet her apartment via Airbnb.

Ms. Hickey claimed that her apparent violation of these requirements was a good-faith error based on her ignorance of the law. She also argued that she had sublet her apartment only for brief periods, and had used the money she earned to pay for medical care needed by her husband.

That noted, Ms. Hickey acknowledged at various points that she also owns a condominium in the East Village, and that she spent much of each year in the Hamptons. During four years of court proceedings, she often failed to comply with court orders to produce financial records.

As her legal battle heated up, Ms. Hickey launched (in January, 2017) a page on GoFundMe.com, the online platform that allows individuals to raise money for challenging circumstances, such as accidents and illnesses. This brought in $15,000, which she appears to have used for attorney’s fees. On her GoFundMe page, Ms. Hickey described herself as, “the target of a greedy landlord’s predatory tactics.”

Last week, however, the court ruled in favor of Mr. Moskowitz, not only ordering Ms. Hickey evicted, but also fining her $185,000, part of which is intended to cover attorney’s fees for the landlord, and part of which is meant as a penalty for violating provisions of New York’s rent stabilization regulations, which prohibit tenants in regulated apartments from profiting.

This appears to be the largest fine ever imposed in New York (or anywhere else in America) as a sanction for illegally subletting an apartment.

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