Residential Hotel Turns Hostel on Tenants

Bennett Baumer May 25, 2005

Convicted slumlord Jay Wartski has made a career of dodging court orders, harassing tenants and illegally converting single-room occupancy residential hotels (SROs) into regular hotels. Wartski cut his teeth by illegally evicting SRO tenants at the Sahara and Bond hotels by using junkies, drug dealers, hookers, and even dogs to harass folks. H. Wartski ended up spending a month in Rikers Island for his antics.

These days, he’s the owner of the Dexter House on West 86th Street on the Upper West Side, and employing the same tactics of illegal SRO conversions past. Brazilian immigrant Manuel Guerrero has been living at the Dexter House for five years, but management claims he is an illegal subtenant and is attempting to evict him. Management has also tried to oust opera singer Lisa Beth MacKinlay, though she was able to stay by fighting in court.

Outside MacKinlay’s room, a plywood-floored hallway leads into a shared bathroom and water damage from past rains is visible. Other floors have much better infrastructure, but usually these contain tourist rooms.

Tenants are fighting back, and have gotten the support of elected leaders like City Councilmember Gale Brewer and Congressman Jerry Nadler, both of whom have spoken at rallies with tenants. The Dexter House Tenant Association is hoping to use the politicians to push the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development to take action against the hotel’s management.

Calling Wartski “fair,” building manager Robert Goicochea said, “He doesn’t push people around.” If tenants say he has, then, “let them come forward.” “It’s not like I’m converting this place into a hostel,” Goicochea added. That’s exactly what he’s doing, tenants say, and the building is advertised as a hostel on several Web sites and in the phone book. Paying as little as $30 a night, tourists from around the world are packed into six-bed hostel rooms. This maneuvering violates both the city’s zoning resolution and the Multiple Dwelling Law, according to Tenant Association president Vicki Labosky. “Rooms cannot be rented for less than a week,” she said.

Additional reporting by Antrim Caskey. Bennett Baumer is an organizer with Met Council on Housing. This article originally appeared in Tenant/Inquilino newspaper.

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