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Safety Rules Ignored at Building Where Air Conditioner Fell, Sources Say

By  Jill Colvin and Amy Zimmer | June 8, 2012 7:38am 

YORKVILLE — Many residents and staff of a building where an A/C unit plummeted 20 stories onto a nursery school's playground ignore rules designed to make sure the units are safely installed, sources said.

The tenant of the Yorkville’s Holmes Towers apartment from which the cooling unit fell may lose her apartment over the incident.

But that tenant is not alone in violating housing authority rules, several sources told DNAinfo.com New York.

Several tenants and maintenance workers at Holmes Towers, on First Avenue at 93rd Street, said scant attention is paid to NYCHA’s mandate that residents have a maintenance worker present when a unit is installed or removed.

"They’re supposed to do it… They take care of their own," said a maintenance worker, who declined to give his name.

“They do it themselves. They go buy it and put it in,” said another, who said he’d worked for NYCHA for more than a decade and wasn’t aware of any policy instructing residents to contact management when they replace a unit, which he said would overwhelm staff.

“Do you know how busy we’d be?” he asked.

After DNAinfo reported Thursday that the air conditioner fell on May 29, fortunately missing all of the 4-year-olds on the playground, NYCHA conducted an air conditioner survey.

Workers visually inspected Holmes Towers to see if apartments had missing, defective or improperly installed window guards or air conditioners, a spokeswoman said. 

Building staff also placed letters under every apartment door at the complex outlining the rules regarding window guards and air conditioners.

“You must immediately notify the Management Office or the Centralized Call Center,” the letter states, “when any air conditioner is to be removed from any window.

"Upon this notification, you must schedule an appointment during business hours for a maintenance worker to be present when the air conditioner is removed, in order to immediately replace the air conditioner with a window guard.”

A NYCHA spokeswoman said that the average time for a maintenance appointment was two weeks.

Numerous residents said they knew of no such rule instructing them to inform NYCHA if they replaced units — only that they had to report adding a new air conditioner if
they didn't have one previously.

They said they have to pay a charge to have a worker present for that.

Sally Maldonado, the director of the Eisman Day Nursery and a former Holmes Towers resident, said no maintenance workers were present when a non-functioning A/C unit was removed for her daughter, who still lives there.

“We asked Housing for help,” she said. Instead, her boyfriend removed the A/C unit and installed the window guards.

Maldonado sent a letter last week to NYCHA Chairman John Rhea saying that an informal count she did found that 85 percent of the residents do not have safety brackets under their units. She has yet to receive a response from the authority.

But she remains concerned enough that she is not letting the four-year-olds back in the playground where the incident happened.

“They tell you, ‘Do it yourself.’ But if you’re depending on the tenant to do it, it’s not going to be done the right way,” said one long-time resident, 77, who urged the city to crack down.

“We have to do it ourselves. They don’t do it for us,” said Cindy Perez, 38, who has lived in Holmes for the last eight years and said that, if residents do want staff assistance, they need to pay them under the table to come after work hours.

Jasmine Castro, a resident at Isaacs Houses who sends her 5 and 3-year-olds to the nursery school, said she spoke to the building staff after the incident to find out what the policies were on A/C removal and was told that it was all the tenants’ responsibility.

“It’s very scary,” she said of the recent fall. “It’s a miracle it didn’t hurt the children.”

Some long-time residents said they remember a time when staff did help with installations and blamed budget cuts for the change.

Castro recalled how when she moved in 15 years ago, a NYCHA worker — for a fee — installed her A/C unit. “He drilled the air conditioner into the frame. It was an amazing job.”

A NYCHA spokeswoman said that annual apartment inspections at Holmes Towers are scheduled to begin on June 20, when staff conduct a thorough assessment of interiors.