Tucked among lush green trees on Cherry Hill’s tony east side, multimillion-dollar homes grace tranquil Winding Drive.
But one of them, the former home of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, is now an Airbnb and has been the scene of large parties and catered events that have drawn loud crowds, fistfights, and massive parking jams. Neighbors say the encroaching renters and their guests are threatening to ruin the quality of life in their leafy enclave, and township officials are poised to enact limits on short-term property rentals.
“It is really changing the character of the neighborhood," said Erin Gill, chief of staff to Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn.
In the last two years, Cherry Hill police have visited the house 97 times, according to the mayor’s office. Four weeks ago, a party became so unruly that 12 officers went to the house, where they broke up a fight and found two men unconscious and a third vomiting, police said.
“These are wild parties. Not like parties where your daughter invites the school over,” said a Winding Drive resident who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “It’s like you live next to one of those catering halls or night clubs.”
The 10,000-square-foot home, protected by double gates and featuring stone floors, a floating staircase, and an expansive pool and hot tub, rents for $1,500 per night, with a two-night minimum. Add in the cost of cleaning service, taxes, and fees, and a two-night stay costs $4,171.
“Either stay in our property and be a champ for a day, or knockout one of your events and be remembered like The Greatest of All Time. We create an amazing experience for you to keep for generations to come,” the website for the house read as recently as Wednesday. “We are happy to host you for gathering or celebration,” said the Airbnb description, which has since been removed. Its listing featured a set of rules, including a 50-person maximum for events, and even recommended a local event company.
Weddings, family reunions, film premiers, and birthday parties have been held at the house where Ali lived from 1971 to 1973, neighbors say, often swirling scenes of more than 100 people who blast loud music and bring traffic that clogs streets and blocks driveways.
Baruch Adika, who owns the five-bedroom, 5½-bath house with his wife, Ariella, blames the problems on unruly guests who break house rules. He says he’s just trying to create memorable experiences for Muhammad Ali fans who want to revel in his legacy in a place the famous fighter once called home.
The house, which the couple purchased in 2014, is currently listed for sale for $2.76 million.
Before putting the house on the market in October 2018, the couple listed it on Airbnb. The Adikas also hired a property manager and built a website, TheAliHouse.com, declaring the space’s availability for events. In July 2018, Adika filed a business license for the Airbnb called The Ali House LTD, records show, which towns often require for short-term rentals.
“We don’t want to bother the neighborhood,” Adika said in a recent interview. “What we are trying to build in the house is an experience.”
Township officials say that’s not allowed. Adika is essentially running a business in a residential neighborhood, they say, and that violates the local zoning code. They have fined him $3,100 for zoning violations and cited him for maintaining a disorderly home, renting a home without a certificate of occupancy, and renting illegally, records show.
Adika said he has tried to follow local regulations — limiting minimum stays to two days and purchasing $65 certificates of occupancy for each booking. Still, he said of township officials, “They are going against me in every possible way.”
“Even though Airbnb is legal, they just want to ban it completely and keep fining me until I get exhausted.” Adika said all future events have been canceled and changed the Airbnb listing to note that. But he said he has no intention of shutting down the Airbnb, which has five-star reviews and was named the “Best Airbnb in the region” by Philadelphia Magazine.
April Holmes, a Paralympic gold medalist and Camden native, hosted a fund-raiser there in May to raise money for her nonprofit, which provides scholarships and medical treatment to people with disabilities. “It was an amazing event,” she said. “We loved the atmosphere of being in Muhammad Ali’s house.” The event raised about $25,000, she said.
The house has also hosted parties that charge admission, which the Airbnb listing specifically prohibits. One pool party in September 2018 offered unlimited food and liquor for $40, according to an online posting. Guests also had the option to buy a $500 VIP Table, complete with two bottles of alcohol, the posting said.
Adika said guests often misrepresent their intentions of entertaining. “People know this is a mansion and we can’t control everything they do,” said Burnell Brown, who has managed the property, checking guests in and out, since last October. “They say one thing when they book it and then do another when I leave the property.”
The township has sent cease-and-desist orders, listing five violations, on April 15 and May 21, but the events continued. Brown said that all of the events this summer were scheduled before the township’s order.
“All that stuff was already done. You can’t just call someone and say, ‘By the way, your wedding is canceled,’ ” she said. “Since the township has told me what the requirements were, I’ve done everything in my power to meet their ordinances and guidelines.”
Gill, the mayor’s chief of staff, said township officials have received complaints about other Airbnbs, but this one drew the most concern from neighbors. Cherry Hill officials are considering banning short-term rentals and the township council plans to take up a measure that proposes to do that at a Sept. 9 meeting.
Gill said that it’s likely to pass. Adika said that if it does, he will continue to try to sell the home and move on.