IN her apartment in Stuyvesant Town the other day, Janey Donnelly was on a hunt for a hotel room. At the Web site airbnb.com, she narrowed her search to the East Village, and scrolled down until a thumbnail photograph caught her eye.
“Warm and spacious E.Vil 1 BR,” the listing offered. “$200/nt.”
“If you’re me, you see the window, and there’s nothing else you need to see,” she said. “That window, that radiator — that’s Stuyvesant Town.”
Ms. Donnelly, who has lived in Stuyvesant Town for 30 years, was not looking for a place to stay. She was playing detective, trying to find out who among her neighbors was renting out his or her apartment as a hotel room, in violation of both the lease and, in many cases, the law.
“Management doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it,” she said, reeling off a litany of negative consequences: security risks, bedbugs, noisy parties, strain on the already overloaded garbage bins. “There could be as many as 20 people doing it.”
Illegal hoteliers, meet the amateur sleuths of Stuyvesant Town, adversaries of the Internet age.
Ms. Donnelly’s campaign is part of a battle that has been waged in Stuyvesant Town and neighboring Peter Cooper Village since 2006, when MetLife sold the 80-acre development to a partnership formed by Tishman Speyer Properties and BlackRock Realty for $5.4 billion. The partners set out to rebrand the modest red brick buildings for higher-paying, generally younger tenants. Long-term residents rose up in revolt, and the plan was eventually undone by the financial downturn. But the ill will — toward the buildings’ owners, toward the new crowd living in the developments — remains.
Scratch a tenant angry about one thing, and a dozen more complaints will tumble out: students doubled or tripled up in apartments that previously housed families; noisy concerts on the lawn; food trucks and a farmers’ market bringing outsiders in; overstressed garbage and recycling areas; advertisements beckoning prospective tenants “to live and live it up.”
When a truck delivering Murphy beds appeared in the complex, Ms. Donnelly photographed it and posted it on Facebook. “This is how they cram em in,” she wrote.
Hotel rentals just added to the tension.
Ms. Donnelly, who would not give her age, takes her crime-detection seriously. Working from listings that hide the identities of people offering apartments, she has used Google images to find names, apartment numbers, occupations and phone numbers. “Usually I do this in the middle of the night, watching Alfred Hitchcock on Encore Suspense,” she said.
Renting out one’s apartment as a hotel room has become commonplace in the city, made possible by Web sites like Airbnb, Roomorama and HomeAway. For most residential buildings, a 2010 law prohibits rentals of fewer than 30 days, though there is leeway for people to rent a room within their home, and other kinds of housing may be exempt.
But in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village in Manhattan, the practice hit a particularly sensitive nerve.
“It’s an issue we’ve seen around the district, but usually it’s an owner of a building illegally renting out apartments as hotel rooms,” said Daniel R. Garodnick, a councilman who has lived in the development his whole life. “But in Stuyvesant Town, it’s the tenants renting their apartments. It’s incredibly brazen.”
RESIDENTS have taken their frustration to the Facebook page of the tenants’ association, posting links to the listings and opinions of the scofflaws.
“Great 1 bdrm apart in East Village!”
“Greedy and illegal!”
“Shop our very own farmers market.”
“These people need to be shot!”
It was through Facebook that Margaret Salacan, a board member of the tenants’ association, decided to join the sleuthing. “It was something that was talked about, but I never thought it was to the extent on Facebook,” she said. “I can tell by looking at the picture which renovation it is, especially if they show the kitchen or bathroom. Then I can narrow it down to one or two buildings. It makes me very uncomfortable.”
On a recent evening, Ms. Salacan led a reporter on a tour of some unwelcome developments in the two complexes. She described a culture clash between some longtime residents and more recent arrivals.
“It’s only eight o’clock,” she said, opening the door to a garbage room with bins already full. “In two hours this’ll all be overflowing. And I can tell you there’s already a rat in this building.”
“Who knows what they’ll be bringing in,” she added, pushing on to the next building, past two joggers with ear buds and in T-shirts reading, “Cornell Class of 2015.” A mattress stacked in a garbage area did not have a cover — another violation, she said: “I don’t want to live in a transient neighborhood.”
Around the leafy complex, new and old residents — students, young professionals, families, older people — seemed to move in their own orbits, without visible friction, but with little interaction.
Jason Ye, 23, a law student who lives in a two-bedroom apartment with a wall added to make three bedrooms, said he had no problems with his neighbors, in part because he had no contact with them. “There might be some people who think this is an older community, but management is trying to make it a younger place,” he said.
Ms. Salacan said she had not actually seen any hotel guests around the buildings, which all together have 11,229 apartments, but recently she noticed more roller bags and more foreign languages being spoken.
“I had attributed it to N.Y.U. students,” she said of the foreign-language speakers, “but it might be a mix.”
But other neighbors have had closer encounters. Maurice I. Michaane, 31, who has lived in Stuyvesant Town since 2007, said he and his husband came home one night a few months ago to find three men trying to enter their building behind them. Mr. Michaane did not recognize the men, and did not want to let them in.
“There was a physical altercation,” he said. “They were like, ‘We’re here for the weekend; you have to let us in.’ They pushed us aside and went in.”
The recent wave of hotel listings follows an earlier flurry that was documented in a blog called Lux Living, which no longer exists. At the time, one of the illegal hoteliers was reported to have taken vengeance on her neighbors, putting glue in their locks. As a result, some now are afraid to go public with their complaints.
John Marsh, vice president of the tenants’ association, blamed the complexes’ leasing agent, Rose Associates, for not policing the “explosion of short-term rentals.” The tenants, in partnership with Brookfield Asset Management, are trying to buy the properties.
“It’s odd that people who are not private investigators can take these people’s information and find them on the Internet,” Mr. Marsh said. “Given that capability, you would imagine that someone like Adam Rose, who is quite resourceful, can do the same,” he added, referring to the co-president of Rose Associates.
JOE DePLASCO, a spokesman for Rose Associates and CW Capital, which took control of the two complexes in 2010, after Tishman Speyer and BlackRock defaulted on their mortgage, said that management routinely combed the Internet for short-term listings and had sent cease-and-desist letters to 50 tenants since the middle of last year. Of these, 15 had moved out or had removed their listings, he said. The remaining 35 were “at various points in the legal process with general counsel or outside counsel,” he said. “They take this very seriously.”
Many listings are short lived, only to reappear after a break. Over a two-week period, The New York Times contacted the authors of the nine listings that appeared on Airbnb. Eight did not respond; one said she had just started, and did not know what the experience would hold.
Back in her apartment, Ms. Donnelly’s hunt moved ahead. The ad yielded a photo of the leaseholder, a blonde named Anne, along with a few details: the apartment was on the 11th floor, near Avenue C, facing the East River; Anne was Swedish and liked Balinese food. But that was as far as Ms. Donnelly could get. She posted the listing to the Facebook page so that other rental vigilantes could try their luck. Mr. Marsh added another piece to the puzzle. The apartment, he posted, was clearly in the H or D line. But there the search stopped.
Two days later, Ms. Donnelly was back on the page with another listing.
Yet she conceded that even if the rentals stopped, it would not bring back the Stuyvesant Town she missed, when she knew all her neighbors and nobody worried about strangers from the Internet bringing in bedbugs.
“It’s not family-oriented anymore,” she said. “The oasis is gone.”