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Market Rate Tenants Get Stoves, Others Get Hot Plates in Harlem Building

By Gustavo Solis | January 5, 2015 7:57am
 A six-story building on 125th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue has not had cooking gas since July. Tenants who pay market rate got an electric stove while those who are in rent controlled apartments got hot plates.
Some Tenants Get Hot Plates While Others Get Electric Stoves
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HARLEM — Rent-stabilized tenants of an apartment building with more than 150 city violations have gone without cooking gas for nearly half a year.

But not all residents of 301 St. Nicholas Ave. have needed gas. At least one group of tenants who pay market-rate rent received an electric stove after discovering they couldn't cook in their new apartment.

Gloria Atterbury, 66, who suffers from kidney failure, has been living in a rent-stabilized unit in the six-floor building with her family for 10 years. But after a July 8 fire in the ground-floor bodega at 301 St. Nicholas Ave., Con Edison shut off the gas to allow Newcastle Realty, the owner, to make repairs. That was months ago.

"I need to cook every day, I'm a dialysis patient," said Atterbury, whose family has had the apartment for more than 30 years. "My family bought me a toaster oven. They [the management company] haven't done anything about it. It's been six months."

Atterbury and other tenants said they have been offered hot plates to cope with the loss of their stoves.

Matt Mikaelian, 28, and his roommates, who pay the market rate for their three-bedroom unit, got a different response. They were given an electric stove in November after complaining to the landlord.

The group was unaware that the building didn’t have cooking gas when they moved into the apartment in mid-October from the Catskills. He and two friends signed the lease to a market-rate apartment — $2,900 for a three-bedroom — that had been completely renovated and had brand-new appliances.

A few days after moving in, they found out they couldn’t use the stove and called Newcastle.

"The management company said we should've asked," Mikaelian said. "We never would've moved in if they told us this was an issue."

Mikaelian had just paid moving costs, two months’ rent and bought furniture. He considered leaving but didn't have the money to move into another apartment. 

Eventually, Newcastle's president Margaret Streicker agreed to take a percentage off their first month's rent and install an electric stove, Mikaelian said.

None of the tenants in rent-stabilized units were offered the same deal, said Vaniqua Picard, 26, who lives with her grandmother.

"I'm happy for them. Somebody should get something out of this," said Picard. "But I'm enraged for my grandmother. She’s been living here for more than 20 years. It's not fair to the older people."

Picard's grandmother is considering withholding her rent until the gas is restored, she added.

Older tenants have also been asked to move out in exchange for money, residents said.

Residents have filed 135 complaints with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The complaints include peeling plaster, no heat and hot water, no cooking gas and problems with mice, according to HPD's website.

The building's 156 open violations are for for a range of issues like a busted lock in the front door, not repairing damage from the July fire, and not fixing broken smoke alarms, according to HPD.

In October, the building was fined $1,000 for not having heat and hot water. The money, which was due Dec. 20, has not been paid, an HPD spokeswoman said.

Newcastle Realty did not hire a plumber until November, according to Con Edison.

An inspection needed to turn the gas back on is set for Jan. 6.

The management company, through a spokesman, said getting the cooking gas turned back on has taken six months because they needed to complete structural repairs before working on the gas.

"A fire started in a delicatessen in the building and we had to do structural work in advance of the gas work," Newcastle spokesman George Arzt said.

While residents went without cooking gas, owners continued to renovate apartments, install new lights and paint the hallways. Some tenants said they are being pushed out to make room for more market-rate apartments.

“They called me and said, ‘Since you’re not happy, would you consider taking some money,’” said Atterbury, who has lived in a rent-controlled apartment for 25 years. “They want me out.”

Atterbury, who immediately declined the offer, did not receive a specific dollar figure. Some of her neighbors have been offered more than $100,000, she said.

The money was tempting but Atterbury was afraid she wouldn't be able to find another two-bedroom apartment in Harlem for less than the $800 a month she pays now. She goes to dialysis twice a week and can't afford to pay higher rent, she said.

“The older tenants are paying less rent than the new people coming in," said Stephanie Edmond, a tenant in her 60s who pays $1,000 for a two-bedroom apartment. "The person who received the electric stove is probably one of the people who are paying more.”

Although she understand the economic realities of the situation, she still feels it is unfair.

“It’s wrong,” she said. “The person who would need to utilize the stove more is the person who is paying the least amount of rent because that person has more of a financial burden."