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Landlord Cuts Cooking Gas To Force Out Elderly Tenants, Lawyers Say

By Allegra Hobbs | March 24, 2016 1:44pm
 Puiming Tang-Wong and her caretaker Yaohao Wu say it has been extremely difficult to live without cooking gas for four months.
Puiming Tang-Wong and her caretaker Yaohao Wu say it has been extremely difficult to live without cooking gas for four months.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

LOWER EAST SIDE — A landlord is trying to push out a handful of elderly rent-stabilized tenants by depriving them of cooking gas after harassing them with buyout offers did not do the job, say residents, whose lawyers claim it is all part of a scheme to replace them with higher-paying tenants.

The residents at 211 Madison St., several of whom are more than 80 years old and have been in the building for decades, said they have been suffering for roughly four months without gas, leaving them unable to make the food for their restricted diets and placing a hardship on their caretakers.

“It is so difficult,” said 91-year-old Puiming Tang-Wong, who has lived in her apartment for 43 years. “I don’t have soup to drink.”

Tang-Wong’s caretaker either has to make the broth at her own home and bring it to her client, or dish out money for a take-out alternative.

Tang-Wong and 10 other tenants — represented by Manhattan Legal Services and tenant advocacy group Asian Americans for Equality — were taking landlord Silverstone Property Group to Housing Court on Thursday to demand the group quickly restore the gas.

Silverstone flipped the switch so it could safely work on the gas line in early December, after it got caught doing illegal electrical work that posed a danger for building residents — unsafe construction that landed the group with a few Department of Building violations, city records show.

But the landlord has been dragging its feet on the work, and refuses to give tenants an estimated date of completion, the tenants' legal representatives said.

The outage has been especially devastating for the building’s oldest tenants, said one of the lawyers, not only because it makes it difficult for them to keep to their strict diets, but because it creates a financial strain on the already cash-strapped elders.

“This effects the elderly tenants more, because they’re on a fixed income,” said Larry Leung of Manhattan Legal Services. “They are unable to afford eating out every single night.”

The management company gave out hot plates as an alternative to working stoves, but the contraptions are hardly a replacement, the tenants said. Some fear the plates pose a fire hazard and refuse to use them altogether, while those who use the plates say they drive up their electric bill and take about 40 minutes to bring water to a boil.

“It takes me three hours to make soup,” said Xiu-Xi Wong, who cares for another elderly tenant in the building.

Silverstone first tried to force out the rent-stabilized residents with aggressive buyout offers when it took over the building a year ago, said Leung, who claims the group is now trying to finish the job by harassing the tenants out of their homes.

The group is currently renovating shiny new market-rate units throughout the building, and the lawyers believe it wants to do the same to the elders’ units once they are gone.

“It coincides with their construction for market-rate tenants,” said Leung. “We think they are forcing out rent-stabilized tenants to put in market-rate tenants.”

Tenants claim the management fails to do adequate repair work on their apartments, which are dilapidated and overrun with vermin.

The tenants and their lawyers planned to face Silverstone in court on Thursday morning.

Silverstone Property Group did not return requests for comment.