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After AC Units Fall on UES, City Councilman Aims to Clarify Rules

By Amy Zimmer | July 3, 2012 10:16am
An air conditioner unit above the playground looks questionable on Wednesday June 6th, 2012.
An air conditioner unit above the playground looks questionable on Wednesday June 6th, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Theodore Parisienne

MANHATTAN — A City Councilman is hoping to help clarify the rules for public housing residents on air conditioner installation and removal after two units plunged from windows in a month, including one that fell from a 20th-floor apartment barely missing nursery school children in the playground below.

Frustrated by the confusing language in New York City Housing Authority flyers about the rules on air conditioners, City Councilman Dan Garodnick created a separate flyer, to be delivered to tenants this week, which he said was written in "clear language, so there's no ambiguity."

"It feels like there's some inconsistent information out there, and we want to clarify that" he added. "But we also don't want to make it more complicated."

The flyers follow the two dangerous falling AC accidents: the first, when an air conditioner fell out of a 20th-floor window at the Upper East Side's Holmes Towers, almost hitting children in the Eisman Day Nursery playground on May 29. DNAinfo.com New York first reported the story, which shocked toddlers' parents and prompted the school's director to close off the play space.

The unit fell out when a tenant tried to remove it from the window on her own, officials said. NYCHA said breaking such a rule could carry an eviction, but a spokeswoman would not say if any ruling has been made in this case.

In the wake of the fall, NYCHA workers scrambled to educate tenants and maintenance staff alike at the Holmes Towers and Stanley Isaacs Houses, but many remained confused.

Nearly a month later, another unit came crashing down onto a grassy area not accessible to pedestrians on June 23, a NYCHA spokeswoman said.

Garodnick's flyer explains, for instance, that tenants are responsible for following all safety precautions and directions as outlined by the manufacturer when installing AC units and must also notify NYCHA within three days of installation. Bricks, wood or objects other than the manufacturers' specified brackets should not be placed under a unit.  

"You may not remove your own air conditioners," the flyer states. "Do not try to remove the unit without a maintenance worker present."

Despite the official NYCHA rules, maintenance workers said there was no way they could accommodate the number of requests from people to remove or install AC units if everyone were to follow the mandate.

“Do you know how busy we’d be?” one worker said.

"They take care of their own," another had said.

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

“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.

Even the director of the nursery school, Sally Maldonado, said that when she helped her daughter last summer remove an AC, the building staff was unavailable. Maldonodo's boyfriend did the job on his own.

NYCHA welcomed the councilman's flyers.

"We believe that any assistance from a Councilmember in stressing the need to follow the rules can be very helpful in ensuring the safety of all," a NYCHA spokeswoman said.

She added, "We have had very constructive meetings with the residents of Isaacs-Holmes, and they are all very eager to have their AC-units in compliance with safety regulations."

The housing complex began its annual apartment inspections starting June 20.

"If an improperly installed air conditioning unit is discovered upon inspection, the resident is given a period of time to have it properly installed prior to a follow-up inspection," the spokeswoman explained.