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Tenants in Harlem Building Refuse to Pay Rent After a Month With No Gas

By Gustavo Solis | November 4, 2014 3:00pm

HARLEM — Residents of an 85-unit building who went without cooking gas for most of October had service restored last week, but are still furious at the building owner for not discounting their rent.

Tenants of 262 W. 153 St., an affordable housing building near Frederick Douglass Boulevard, lost cooking gas on Oct. 2 after a leak was discovered, residents and the utility company confirmed. 

Con Edison restored the gas on Oct. 31 after an inspection determined that a proper repair had been made, but in the interim residents spent nearly a month without cooking gas, forcing some residents to rely on pricey takeout and delivery.

Some tenants now plan to withhold their rent because the building wouldn't give them a discount because of the lack of gas.

The building failed an Oct. 15 inspection because repairs had not yet been made to fix the leak, according to Con Edison. The building's management company, Winn Residential, blamed tenants for the failed test by saying they turned on the gas valves during the inspection.

While the gas was turned off, Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, which owns the building, provided seniors with three microwave meals a day and one meal a day for others, HCCI spokeswoman Moikgantsi Kgama said.

Some residents complained that they racked up heavy takeout bills because they couldn’t cook or bought electric appliances like slow cookers, George Foreman grills, electric stoves and toasters to prepare their food.

“My daughter is sending me a hot plate,” said Alvron Elkins. “I’ve been using the microwave a lot. Some people are using three or four appliances. The electric bill is going to be high.”

HCCI said they were considering giving the tenants a credit on their rent bill, which includes the cooking gas, but when residents received their October rent slips this week, they noticed that there was no credit.

HCCI will issue a credit, Kgama said in a statement Friday. She did not give a date, but said it will take time to look at the amount of credit they would issue to tenants.

“HCCI’s Office of Real Estate Development will analyze the cost of the cooking gas interruption to determine the amount, of the rent credits, due to our effected residents,” she said. “Our goal is to help offset any financial burdens endured due to this crisis. We will advise you accordingly by November 15, 2014.”

Allyson Quinby, spokeswoman for management company Winn Residential, emphasized that they do not have control over the rent credit amount or timing.

Resident Cassie Mebane said she was upset when she got her October bill.

“This building is crazy when it comes to money. If we are one day late we get a $25 late fee. If we are a month late we get an eviction notice. I'm not going to pay.”

Mebane said several other tenants plan to do the same.

“I told them everything I’m buying I need to be compensated for,” Mebane said. “One of the managers told me to hold on to the receipts.”

Shaniqua Black, who also plans to withhold her rent until she sees the credit, said her family got food poisoning from eating takeout because she could not cook. She said she and her daughter ended up in the emergency room after eating at a Chinese restaurant on 145th Street, she said.

“Everybody’s fed up,” Black said. “Yes, people are glad the gas is back on but we went a month without it.”