Dozens of Hasidic Jews visiting from Israel were forced to vacate what officials say is an illegal transient hotel in the basement of a Brooklyn apartment building Thursday. NY1's Michael Herzenberg filed the following report.
When NY1 approached 899 Montgomery Street, workers were replacing the lock on the basement door to enforce the city's vacate order.
Most legitimate residents we spoke with had no idea what the city says was illegally going on below them.
"I'm just surprised," said one. "I didn't even know that was there, that the door was there."
The door, building inspectors say, is the only way in or out of the basement. The New York City Department of Buildings says the owner illegally converted the cellar into a transient hotel with more than 100 beds.
"That's ridiculous and no one in here knows that," said one resident. "That's putting people at risk. And what kind of people they putting in there?"
The people staying there were dozens of Hasidic Jews from Israel, observing the High Holy days with a Lubavitch Rabbi.
They learned about the vacate order late Thursday and removed luggage, foam mattresses and even wooden beds from the basement.
Some neighbors say they knew something was suspicious.
"You see how things happen right in front of your face, you don't know what's going on," said one. "I knew something was fishy though."
Some say they've seen the visitors outside for a few weeks now. An employee of the building says the owner opens the basement door to visitors every year for the holidays.
"The guests were not worried that they only had one way to escape the basement if there was a fire.
"God should help," said one. "Once the Messiah will come, we'll have this whole building."
The pilgrims were confident they'd find another place to stay within the community but wouldn't say where.
The building's owner, Clean Realty, faces two building violations, for working without a permit and the illegal conversion. NY1 was unable to reach the company for comment.