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Hudson Heights Tenants Left Without Heat During Cold Snap

By Nigel Chiwaya | February 6, 2014 2:19pm
  Heating comes and goes at 640 Fort Washington Ave., leaving tenants to fend for themselves to stay warm.
No Heat at 640 Fort Washington Ave.
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HUDSON HEIGHTS — As New Yorkers shivered in the throes of the recent polar vortex, Hudson Heights resident Victor Verhaeghe bundled up and resigned himself to the worst.

The cold was nothing new for Verhaeghe, whose building at 640 Fort Washington Ave. has been plagued by heat and hot water outages. Tenants reported more than 70 complaints about heat in the past year alone, according to records from the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Residents in the six-story building had no heat or hot water on Christmas 2012, Thanksgiving 2013, the week of Jan. 20 — when temperatures dipped to single digits — or last Thursday, when service was out for 12 hours.

"It's the middle of winter," said Verhaeghe, 51, who lives with his wife and 5-year-old son. "To go four days without heat is dangerous."

Tenants say their calls to the building's management company, Midtown-based Fairline Management, are rarely returned. When building management does communicate with them, they blame the failings on a faulty old boiler, residents said.

"You never get any information. The information is a sign they put up that says that the heat's out and they're sending a mechanic," Verhaeghe said. "Sometimes they don't even put up a sign." 

Calls to Fairline were not returned. The building's owner, Fred Shalom of Bridgestone Associates, is out of the country, DNAinfo was told Wednesday.

Heat isn't the only problem 640 Fort Washington Ave. has faced. In 2011, the building's management was sued for $1 million by a former tenant who claimed she were driven out of her apartment by a bat infestation. The case was withdrawn in 2012 and filed again in December 2013.

During the most recent outage, Verhaeghe was told by his landlord to buy space heaters. The family spent $300 on the devices and wore their coats indoors. 

Tenant Nina Wugmeister also spent $300 on space heaters. She said building management paid for them, letting her deduct the amount from her most recent rent check.

The space heaters — which Mayor Bill de Blasio has warned New Yorkers against using — triggered unintended consequences: when DNAinfo visited the building, the power was out because of high electricity usage.

A ConEdison spokesman said the company was looking into the issue, and officials from HPD did not return immediately respond to an inquiry.

With few options, residents have started discussing forming a tenants' organization. While the heat is currently working in the building, residents don't think it will last.

"It can go out again at any time when the temperature drops and they have to turn the boiler on," Verhaeghe said.