Williamsburg is a hostel environment

The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Williamsburg has become the secret hostel capital of the city.

You can’t always see it from the street, but dozens of loft units in a handful of converted condos and commercial buildings throughout the hip neighborhood are hosting backpackers and longer-term guests at rates between $34 per night and $4,000 per month.

Fueled by the ever-incessant need for affordable hotel rooms — and fanned by simple Web sites — lodges like Williamsburg HostL, Metropol, Marzili Hostel and Hotel Toshi are springing up, providing communal kitchens, free WiFi, linens, lockers, soap and breakfast.

These “boutique hostels” market themselves as being in the center of “a thriving art community” that contains “exclusive artists and hipsters,” according to postings on Web sites such as or that also offer reviews ranging from “cheap and worth it” and “Excellent! Je recommande!” to “the owner of this place should be in prison” and “it is a crack den full of criminals, bed bugs, prostitutes, and mental patients.”

It’s a booming business. But is it legal?

It’s not always clear. Last week, the city raided a commercial building on N. Sixth Street that contained two such hostels, though one, Zip112, was allowed to remain open, while Loftsel was shuttered.

This week, city officials acknowledged that they simply do not know whether dozens of hostels in Williamsburg and Greenpoint are operating within the law.

A Williamsburg Courier investigation uncovered 12 hostels operating in the neighborhood. Most of the buildings in which the hotels exist did not have a certificate of occupancy and several of those buildings had violations for allegedly illegal construction work.

According to city codes, a hostel is legal if its building is located in an area that is zoned to allow the hostel to operate and the manager has the proper permits to run the lodge.

The building must also have an amended certificate of occupancy signifying the intended use of rooms in the building and additional safety measures to accommodate the population living in the property.

“What this comes down to is that the people who are renting out these rooms are putting themselves at risk if there aren’t adequate fire safety measures,” said Department of Buildings spokeswoman Carly Sullivan. “You don’t want a scenario that is unsafe for people to stay there.”

Sullivan did say that the bottom line is that any loft could be converted into a hostel — provided the permits and safety measure are in place.

In the wake of last week’s raid on N. Sixth Street, city inspectors fanned out across the neighborhood, following up on multiple complaints about illegal hotels, though records show that inspectors were unable to access the buildings to determine whether hotels were present.

Complaints from residents and businesses share a common theme: anxiety towards the transient population in its midst.

One tenant who rented an apartment in the N. Sixth Street building said she feared for her safety whenever hostel guests came back to their room after a night of partying. Eight blocks away, a salon owner near the unmarked Williamsburg HostL on Bedford Avenue and S. Second Street has been repeatedly interrupted by tourists who wander into her store, asking where the hostel is.

“They’re running a business, they’re collecting money, and they’re doing it illegally,” said the salon owner.

Another Williamsburg tenant, who signed a one-year lease in a converted factory loft off Driggs Avenue and S. Fifth Street, is worried that his building is now the headquarters of a chain of hotels that are part of the growing Hotel Toshi empire.

Best known for his work as a recurring character on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” actor and promoter Robert “Toshi” Chan manages 48 apartments in 18 buildings in Manhattan and Williamsburg. The underground hotel consists of scores of luxury lofts at prices as low as $100 a night, a stark contrast to the homely but cramped quarters of most Williamsburg hostels.

Yet Chan’s building on S. Fifth Street received 20 violations from the city while his S. Eighth Street flagship received five violations for unpermitted construction work. A city inspector this week referred the investigation to the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement to further pursue the matter.

“I’ve spoken to two other permanent residents since I moved in but we all feel like there’s a big security concern due to all the transient people here,” said one tenant. “Until the laws change in our favor, we’re all at the mercy of the hotel and Toshi Chan.”

For tourists visiting Williamsburg, the hostel experience is a different story. At the New York Loft Hostel, a legal lodge that received some of the best reviews on travel Web sites, guests mostly felt they got what they paid for, which was a hassle-free stay in a convenient location.

“We were looking at all places in Brooklyn, but everyone says Williamsburg is the best. There are a lot of students and workers our age here,” said Jenny Daly, 19, from San Francisco.

Having the proper certification and permits did not stop city buildings inspectors from visiting the law-abiding hostel, issuing 18, mostly minor, violations.

As the city expands its investigation into hostels and hotels, others continue to proliferate. For community leaders, including Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D–Williamsbu­rg), that is not necessarily a bad thing as long as hospitality businesses are legal and follow city codes. The danger is if a hotel manager is using a building illegally, an ensuring city raid could leave legal residents homeless.

“[The raid on N. Sixth Street] is just one example of how people … can get hurt by that,” said Lentol.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 9, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

PK from Williamsburg says:
Um, no. Try doing your due diligence and research before printing something. None of the aforementioned places like the New York Loft Hostel or Zip 112 are legal.

These establishments require hotel building codes. In the case of Zip 112, they didn't have a C of O (illegal item #1) had too many people in a room (illegal item #2), are not registered with the city as a hostel/hotel (illegal item #3), do not have permits to run a transient occupancy building (#4), and they didn't have sprinklers (#5).

New York Loft Hostel, on the other hand, crams 18 people into a room (18!) with one bathroom for every guest. Legally, only 3 unrelated people are allowed in a room. The rules are written like this for a reason.
April 1, 2010, 9:30 am
none from harlem says:
the most sleazyones are in Harlem , jazz and a few other. they hire illegal foreigners without working permits to work. people steal, foreigners who u would not expect . working class. female also. found this also in the internatrional hostel.
call them shlockstells . they toss a bed into a cold room as many as possible and its a hostel.
some of these foreigners have bad attitudes toward people for low class snobs working off usa in a recession on our dollar when americans are falling down..
it gives people with low self esteem some kind of feeliong of power. to creat a deadly situation in illegal dwelling,and get paid five dollars an hour .. its called nyc itis.. disease.

the loft hostel in bushwick is one of most well run. it respects people outside of one asian gay male who got alot of flack for his snotty fashion world attitude.. dont know if he still works there. but they have some insight into hotel industry. hostels in nyc are like syphilis. its rampid..
boston has few. but nyc has a outbreak..
April 14, 2010, 9:34 am
none again from harlem I says:
IN response to comment above. i have not seen 18 beds in one room . and the rooms are like a whole loft house as compared to a bathroom size room in harlem hostel. with ten to 12 beds. no space to breath. if u look at the photos the beds are far apart and the rooms most of them are vast. 1000 sq ft or more. ..
As for Cof O. dont have information on that. im sure city would have closed it down. they have money to do alot of renovation elevator and maintain.
as for zip 112. they should not wast time with that and shut down smaller ones. i saw marzilli hostel is not there any more. but this w oman runs two more hostels out of harlem and brooklyn which are probaly illegal.. putting 8 people to ten in a 10 by 8 room.
and she has a rude dispostion also..
Harlem is host to those hostels. They closed jazz on city, the interns at jazz are the worst..
April 14, 2010, 9:39 am
none says:
im also currently working on a law suit against some of them becuase of the lack or respect and abuse of people in hostels. people there feel they are in a frat not a hotel. and can do what they want.
i was stalked by one gay male from hostel to hostel looking for a person to intimidate and abuse. in last episode it had such a tragic effect on my life and exhistance i became ill disabled and can no longer do what i was doing and loving.. i can not also feel settled and he has intentional found me, in places since.. those places in harlem sometimes atract the low lives..
April 14, 2010, 9:42 am

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: