Doorman Building Boasts $3,000 Apartments, But No Gas

By Leslie Albrecht on August 8, 2011 11:06am 

A doorman building where a one-bedroom rents for $3,000-a-month, tenants say 173 W. 78th Street has been without gas for several weeks.
A doorman building where a one-bedroom rents for $3,000-a-month, tenants say 173 W. 78th Street has been without gas for several weeks.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

UPPER WEST SIDE — A West 78th Street doorman building boasts $3,000-a-month apartments with views of the American Museum of Natural History — but no gas.

Tenants say that's been the case since July 16, and that it's the second time this year they've been forced to make do without the essential utility. In April, at least 16 apartments in the 16-floor building on West 78th Street and Amsterdam Avenue didn't have gas for a month, tenants said.

This time around, landlord Mall Properties doled out hot plates, but gave tenants few answers about why the gas keeps cutting out, residents said. 

"Trader Joe's has become my best friend," said a renter who asked not to be named, and has been stocking up on pre-packaged meals that don't require a stove.

"I'm making frozen food and ordering in all the time. For families with small kids, it’s impossible. It would be nice to be able to cook pancakes in the morning or make eggs.”

Tenants also can't use the gas-powered dryers in the building, so they're forced to haul their clothes to Laundromats.

The prolonged gas shutdown prompted the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development to slap the building's owners with a "Class C" violation on Aug. 1, an HPD spokesman said. Class C violations are the most serious and are issued for hazards such as inadequate fire exits or lead paint. An HPD spokesman said contractors are now working with Con Ed to resolve the issue.

Mall Properties did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Residents say this is the latest example of poor management by Mall Properties and its affiliate, Janoff & Olshan. Tenants claim there have been three gas outages in the past year, as well as a threat by Con Ed to cut off electricity because of unpaid bills. But they say they can't get straight answers about the causes of the problems because the landlord won't return phone calls.

In January, tenants received a letter from Con Ed saying that Janoff & Olshan owed the utility $3,488 in past-due bills and a $1,725 security deposit. If the landlord didn't pay up, Con Ed was going to shut off power to the building's common areas, the letter said.

Mall Properties told tenants the overdue bill was a clerical error, and power was never shut off.

In April, the gas was shut off because a leak was discovered in the building, a Con Ed spokesman said. For a week, every unit in the building went without gas, the spokesman said. Service was gradually restored over the course of the next month.

Tenants say the gas went out again in May, and that Con Ed representatives told them the landlord needed to get a plumber to fix the issue. Residents said the gas problems appear to be related to the demolition work in the building's ground-floor retail spaces.

As compensation for the inconvenience, Mall Properties offered tenants who pay $3,000 per month in rent a $135 rebate — but they could only get the discount if they signed a paper promising never to take legal action against the landlords.

"I don't want to give up what little rights I have," said a tenant who refused to sign the document and didn't accept the rent rebate. "For $135, I didn't think it was worth it."

When the gas went off again in July, Mall Properties offered tenants hot plates for cooking.

"What I don't understand is, there's no sense of urgency," said another resident, who noted that the building has several elderly tenants and young families.

She said she worries that a "gassy, oily" smell around the building could be a sign of a serious hazard, so she recently took out more renter's insurance.

Mall Properties and Janoff & Olshan had already come under criticism after they ousted longtime mom-and-pop businesses from the building's ground-floor retail space earlier this year.

Storeowners told DNAinfo that the landlords refused to negotiate new leases because they wanted to push out the old businesses for a new tenant. The building takes up half a block along Amsterdam Avenue and West 78th Street.

A shoe repairman, optician, and locksmith are among the establishments that were booted to make room for a candy store, Sugar & Plumm Purveyors of Yumm, which is slated to move into the building's ground floor this fall.

Tenants say the building was once well-managed, but in recent years the landlords seem to be less and less responsive.

"We've had a revolving door of people who are responsible for the building," said a tenant. "You never have a name to get in touch with to say something’s wrong. They just don't care. My feeling is, they shouldn't be in this business if it's not something they want to take seriously."

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