Last month we brought you the tale of Hamidou Guira, a cab driver who managed to lock in a $226/month room at a Chelsea hotel thanks to a little-known Single Room Occupancy law. Now, another cab driver has taken up residency in the hotel for free using that same law, and now his landlords are trying to get the city to close the loophole.
Driver Oltimdje Ouattara rented a room at the Chelsea Highline Hotel last month and requested a six-month lease—as the SRO law mandates, the landlord was technically required to give him a rent-regulated lease for life, and since this room was listed for a $0/month rent, he would have scored a free room. But the building's landlords, John Leitersdorf and John Jacobsen, refused, arguing that Ouattara already had a permanent residence in New York.
They evicted him, and he is now suing them for residency. But Leitersdorf and Jacobsen are arguing that it's time to get the city to change the law, calling it "unconstitutional” and “tantamount to taking property without due process.” As the law states if you request a six-month lease in a hotel or SRO that falls within certain parameters, management has to make you a rent-stabilized tenant indefinitely. The hotel must have been constructed before July 1st, 1969, and must have cost less than $350-a-month or $88-per-week on May 31st, 1968.
As for Ouattara's case, Leitersdorf's lawsuit claims that, "It is unfathomable that such an outcome was intended by the drafters of these various sections of the code." Justice Cynthia Kern, who sided with Guira earlier this summer, has not come to a decision regarding Ouattara, but has agreed to consider striking down the law, a move some housing attorneys say would strike a blow against already embattled rent-stabilization laws.
We spoke with housing attorney Janet Kalson last month regarding Guira's case, and she confirmed that the law is airtight, though landlords will typically fight as hard as they can to get tenants out once it is invoked. "The law exists and it's not going off the books, but the reality is that the tenant's going to have to have a lawyer to fight for them. It's a very hard thing for an individual to navigate on their own," Kalson told us, noting that police would often need to get involved once a lease was requested.
You can peruse the hotel law in its entirety here.