Tenants wonder if landlord is trying to force them out
Most people mark their calendars in anticipation of a holiday or a vacation. Jeanette Guzman marks hers to count how long she has lived without gas: 100 days, so far.
Guzman and the other tenants at 541-543 Union Ave. in Morrisania say they use hot plates the landlord provided last April when Con Edison shut off their gas after a pipe broke.
Four months later, tenants in the building’s 52 apartments say they are still reliant on those hot plates to cook meals. Guzman says that she called the management company, Chestnut Holdings, every day when the problem started, to request updates, but didn’t hear back from them until she asked her City Council representative, Melissa Mark-Viverito, to intervene.
“There was no communication at all about it,” Guzman said. Even when she contacted Con Edison, the gas company told her they could only disclose information directly to the landlord.
The day after Mark-Viverito made the call on her behalf, Guzman said she received an angry call from a Chestnut Holdings representative who reminded her the management company had provided tenants free hot plates. Unmoved, Guzman told him she would organize fellow tenants if the company didn’t keep tenants in the loop.
On June 29, signs were posted in the lobby notifying residents that the Department of Buildings and Con Edison had authorized the landlord to restore gas to their homes. But still there is no gas.
“I can’t be under these conditions,” Guzman said. Cooking hot dogs takes four hours on the company-provided hotplate, she said, causing her electric bill to soar.
Chestnut Holdings, however, contends that the time it has taken to work on the problem is not unusual.
“It’s a major job, it’s costing us a lot of money,” said John Sutherland, the company’s managing director, in a phone conversation. “But once it’s done, it will be a wonderful addition to the building that should last for 50 to 100 years.”
The way the building was constructed in the 1930s, Sutherland said, every apartment has its own gas meter, making repairs and bureaucratic approvals from the city cumbersome. With just one meter in the basement regulating all the apartments, fixing gas problems will become far easier, he said.
“It takes a long time to do a good job,” he said.
But tenants waiting out the process say they’ve run out of patience. Tenant Madeline Munoz said her electric bill now averages around $300 per month, because of the hotplate. Munoz, who has lived in the building for close to 50 years, says she’s fed up and has considered moving, but can’t afford to.
Like the Munoz family, the Guzmans have lived in the building for about a half-century and have thought of moving. But then, they said, that’s probably what the landlord wants.
“Are they trying to persuade us to move out?” said Guzman. “It’s not fair.”
One tenant who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation by the landlord, said no one told him about the lack of gas until after he’d moved in. Another tenant was told the issue was going to be resolved shortly after she moved in. That was two months ago.
Guzman says she doesn’t have the luxury of waiting as the management company is asking her to do. Both of her parents recently had surgery and her younger sister was diagnosed with leukemia. Medical expenses and the additional sum she now spends for takeout meals have drained her finances.
Other tenants have similar complaints about paying more than they can afford for prepared food because they can no longer cook at home.
“I have to eat out everyday now,” said tenant Jamie Ramirez, estimating he spends an additional $150 a week.
A city fire dept. head says landlords have a significant say in how quickly gas can be restored to their buildings.
“In the more affluent areas, the landlords fix these issues in a few days,” said NYFD battalion chief Michael Maloney. The kind of leaks that were reported at 541-543 Union Ave. are usually considered insignificant, said Maloney, adding it was up to the landlord to fix them quickly.
“The delay is not because we wanted it. We’re doing everything we can,” said Sutherland.
But a spokesman for Con Edison, Allan Drury, said the gas company is still waiting for paperwork from the landlord before it can inspect and test the building.
“Con Ed acts quickly,” said Drury. “We want them to have gas just as badly as they do.”
“We hard working people work so we can pay our rent,” said Guzman. “And now we don’t even get to enjoy it.”