CHINATOWN — Rent-stabilized tenants living across from the site of the East Village explosion say their landlord has refused to restore gas and hot water since it was shut off just after the blast.
Christopher Dobrowolski, John Serdula, Nancy Goold, Warwick Mayne and Jerry Long — all rent-regulated tenants at 128 Second Ave. — filed a contempt of court motion against Icon Realty this week after the landlord failed to restore hot water and gas service after a judge ordered the company to make the necessary repairs in April.
"Icon Realty has done very little to restore the services in the building so these tenants are taking it to the next level and bringing contempt of court charges against their landlord to restore these services," said lead organizer Brandon Kielbasa from the Cooper Square Committee, which has been aiding the building's tenants.
Icon Realty was supposed to have restored hot water service 24 hours after the April 14 hearing and fix the building's gas issues within 45 days of that date, tenants said, but they are still without heat, hot water or cooking gas.
Residents have lived without these services since March, when Con Edison found illegal work being done on the gas lines just days after a massive gas explosion killed two people and destroyed three buildings across the street, they said Thursday afternoon at a press conference outside housing court.
Prior to the blast, the five tenants took Icon to court in an attempt to get the landlord to fix several issues in the building, including inconsistent heat, exposed wires, damaged fire escapes and other dangerous conditions like elevated lead levels in common areas, they said.
According to a lead inspection conducted by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and provided by the tenants’ attorney, dust samples collected during a March 3 inspection found lead levels up to 250 times the legal limit
The building also has 114 violations, all of which were issued this year, according to a Department of Housing Preservation and Development spokesman, leading to $4,000 in charges for emergency repairs the agency made as well as heat and hot water inspections.
HPD also sued Icon Realty in an effort to get the landlord to correct all of the building's violations and civil penalties. The case was settled earlier this month, the spokesman said, with the owners paying $7,500 in fines and agreeing to correct the violations.
Serdula, who is president of the building's tenants association, said the landlord's neglect was part of a plan to drive rent-regulated tenants out of the building so that Icon could charge market-rate rents.
"It’s a tactic to wear you down so you would just give up and leave," he said.
Stacie Feldman of Kossoff, PLLC, which represents Icon, said the court-ordered deadlines did not give the landlord enough time to fix the building's issues, which is why it had filed a motion for an extension to comply with the violations — a move the tenants and HPD both opposed, said an agency spokesman.
Feldman said a temporary electric water heater has been installed so that tenants have hot water and each resident has been offered a hot plate to cook with — a claim Serdula disputed, saying only the residents named in the lawsuit received a hot plate and the heater did not work well or provide adequate water pressure.
Feldman also said the landlord hopes to have the heat and hot water fixed in the next few weeks. Restoring the building’s cooking gas is a more involved process and will likely take longer to do, she said, adding that the landlord hopes to finish that job within the next two months.
“The landlord is working diligently and expeditiously to get all these services restored,” she said.
Kielbasa said the tenants were part of a coalition of Icon Realty-owned buildings that would continue to organize against the landlord until the issues in their homes and other properties were resolved.