City sues Torkian Group over alleged illegal short-term rentals

Lawsuit claims landlord had repeated warnings

From left: Mayor Bill de Blasio, 110 Greenwich Street, and Hersel Torkian of Torkian Group (Credit: Getty Images and Google Maps)
From left: Mayor Bill de Blasio, 110 Greenwich Street, and Hersel Torkian of Torkian Group (Credit: Getty Images and Google Maps)

As part of an effort to crackdown on Airbnb, the city is now taking aim at the Torkian Group, claiming the landlord has continued to market and lease illegal short-term rentals despite previous warnings from officials.

In a new lawsuit, the De Blasio administration claims there were 1,029 short-term rental deals in the landlord’s buildings between February 2015 and October 2018. The transactions involved 13 different apartments in 110 Greenwich Street, 311 West 50th Street and 488 Seventh Avenue, which generated more than $1.1 million in revenue, according to the complaint filed in New York Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The city alleges that the landlord had at least 44 illegal listings during that period, most of which appeared on Airbnb, though a handful were also on HomeAway and TripAdvisor. In New York, the vast majority of landlords are prohibited from renting apartments for less than 30 days in homes where the host is not present.

According to the lawsuit, from 2015 to September 2018. the city filed 23 violations and imposed $64,800 in fines against the landlord for doing just that. Though Torkian filed certifications of correction, the landlord has “shown they will not stop the illegal transient occupancy unless ordered to do so by the court,” the complaint alleges.

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Representatives for the landlord did not return multiple requests seeking comment.

The lawsuit also names Bedrose — a brokerage and property manager that specializes in short-term rentals — as a defendant, alleging the company illegally advertised short-term rentals at the Torkian buildings as well as at approximately 19 other buildings.

According to the complaint, Bedrose hid its illegal short-term rental business in various ways, including using fake host names on Airbnb and changing the addresses of the buildings slightly. The company also allegedly instructed guests to sign fake leases and instructed them to lie to city officials if questioned about the terms of their stay at the apartments.

David Tordjman, executive vice president of Norman Bobrow & Co. and a broker with Bedrose who is named as a defendant of the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment.

In the past year, the city has ramped up enforcement of its short-term rental rules. Last summer, the city passed a bill that would have required Airbnb to give the city details about tens of thousands of listings on its site on a monthly basis, along with the addresses and names of their hosts. The law was supposed to go into effect in February, but a federal judge temporarily halted its implementation last week.