City inspectors have shut down an Airbnb hostel operating out of a Greenpoint DIY space, according to the Mayor's office. The Office of Special Enforcement inspected the Morgan Avenue warehouse earlier this month, and found five windowless bedrooms, two of which fit two bunk-beds. They also noted a DJ booth, bar and stage area—all part of the music venue Aviv, which operated out of the space until this past Halloween.
Ten separate Airbnb listings for the space at 502 Morgan Avenue, since removed, listed 'Aviv' as the host. Ranging in cost from $33 to $58 per night, the listing described "a shared room in a concert venue."
"With bunk beds, illegally converted short-stay and permanent dwelling rooms and a jerry-rigged [sic] music venue, a single Airbnb host had ten separate listings for this manufacturing space," said mayoral spokeswoman Melissa Grace in a statement. "We are relieved no one was hurt. We urge New Yorkers and visitors to be aware of dangers posed by illegal housing and performance spaces—and report them to 311 no matter where in the city they occur."
Host Zack Wheeler, 33, an Aviv co-founder, was living on the first floor of the space at the time of the inspection. He told Gothamist that he was troubled, but not surprised, by the bust so soon after the deadly fire at Ghost Ship, a DIY music venue in Oakland, California. "They are using this as justification to go and shut down art spaces all around the city, regardless of how safe the space might be," Wheeler said. "The city needs to make it possible to convert things in a legal manner. The only way we could have converted that [legally] is if we had a ridiculous amount of money, and we don't have money."
According to Wheeler, he and a few friends had signed a two-year lease on the space, which came with the aforementioned bedrooms. Their goal was to host concerts and promote "disenfranchised forms of art for people of all ages, including POC [people of color] and queer promoters who have felt abandoned by the legal nightlife of the city." The lease was set to expire at the end of this month, hence the farewell concerts back in October. Inspection aside, he was planning to move out by January.
Still, Wheeler said, Aviv was part of a larger subculture of DIY venues that are struggling. "It's becoming a very hostile place for nightlife culture and artistic culture to happen, outside of really safe forms of art like the ballet."
"Airbnb was not why we opened Aviv," he added. "Airbnb was simply a tool we used to support [our] mission."
There were at least three guests in the Aviv building during the December 7th inspection, all tourists: a man from Brazil, a woman from Switzerland, and a couple from Italy. In addition to partition walls erected for residential use in a manufacturing-zoned building, inspectors found gas lines and plumbing for the bathrooms that they said had been hooked up without permits. An investigation into the legality of building construction and utilities is ongoing.
The Aviv space did not violate new rules that prohibit advertising entire-apartment rentals on Airbnb, as those apply specifically to multi-unit residential buildings. However, the city said it was tipped off to the space by multiple listings that traced back to the location, which appeared to be illegally converted.
Airbnb spokesman Peter Schottenfels described the Aviv setup as an anomaly. "While instances like these are rare, we support efforts to prevent illegal hotels and unsafe environments from using the platform," he said. "That's why we have removed over 3,600 listings."
Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who has long opposed Airbnb, was skeptical. "For months, Airbnb has claimed that it removed from its site dangerous, illegal listings," she said in a statement Tuesday. "This proves that Airbnb continues to lie and justifies the additional enforcement resources focused on it."
Earlier this month, we interviewed NYC promoter Todd Patrick (a.k.a. Todd P), who has run DIY venues, both legal and illegal, over the years. "It's very expensive, much, much, much more expensive than people think in order to do all of the compliance that is needed to get a place legally sanctioned," Patrick said.
A few months ago, Aviv pledged to "reopen somewhere else." But Wheeler said Tuesday that he's no longer so confident. "The atmosphere in the city is such that I don't think it would be safe to open a new space," he said.
[Update 4:15]: This piece has been updated with an additional comment from Wheeler on Aviv's mission.