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Chelsea Landlord Offers Gym Memberships in Lieu of Hot Water, Tenants Say

By Maya Rajamani | May 13, 2016 6:06pm | Updated on May 15, 2016 7:28pm
 Tenants living at 463 W. 19th St. say they have been without hot water and heat for more than a month.
Tenants living at 463 W. 19th St. say they have been without hot water and heat for more than a month.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani

CHELSEA — Who needs hot water when you can shower at the gym?

That's the thinking of management at a violation-riddled West 19th Street building that offered tenants gym memberships in lieu of hot water after an outage more than a month ago, leaving residents struggling to get answers.

Tenants of 463 W. 19th St. were left in the dark for weeks by managing agent Royal Rock Realty after a fire at restaurant The Fillmore Room on April 9 forced Con Edison to shut off the gas line leading to the eatery and the residential part of the building, resident Jordan Katz said.

“They didn’t answer our messages for weeks,” said Katz, 27, who has lived in the building for the past five years.

While some residents have been able to shower at their own gyms, others have suffered through cold showers in their apartments, she said.

“We all feel nomadic,” she said. “It’s terrible to not be able to come home and take a hot shower.”

About three weeks after the outage, the management company offered tenants temporary Crunch gym memberships so they could use the showers there, several residents said.

But that was cold comfort to some.

“...[It] was like putting salt on our wound because it was a little, too late,” Katz said, noting that none of the tenants she has been in touch with have accepted the memberships.  

Resident Jorge Bendersky, 48, who has lived in the building for approximately two decades, said showering at his gym is a hassle that cuts into his work time.

The lack of hot water also makes cooking difficult, he said.

“You can’t really cook, because you cannot use much oil or butter, or stuff that’s hard to wash with cold water,” he said.

“And the lack of communication with the building, they just really sound like they don’t care,” he  added.

Bendersky called the delayed response to the problem “a joke.”

After Con Ed shut off the gas line following the fire, Royal Rock had to draw up repair and replacement plans and order and install new parts, including replacing more than 100 linear feet of gas pipe, said Mark Benoit, a spokesman for Royal Rock Mark Benoit.

Con Ed inspected and approved the work about two weeks after it finished on April 22, and Royal Rock is now waiting on Con Ed to turn the gas back on, he added.

The temporary gym memberships, he said, “were offered as a courtesy to the building’s residents.”

“Royal Rock worked as quickly as possible to complete the extensive repairs but did not want to cut corners for the sake of speed at the sacrifice of the safety of its residents,” he said, adding that Royal Rock reached out to elected officials to help push Con Ed forward. “We understand the residents’ frustration but did everything within our power to restore full service.”

Moreover, a spokeswoman for NYC Housing Preservation and Development on Friday said the agency's Housing Litigation Division brought heat- and hot water-related litigation against Royal Rock on March 30, seeking penalties for one heat and one hot water violation issued on Feb. 16.

Bendersky recalled Feb. 14 being "the coldest Valentine's Day ever" because there was no heat in the building that weekend.

The department said violations for a lack of hot water were reported on April 18, April 28, May 2 and May 9, which HPD is reviewing for possible emergency repair.

The five-story building currently has 24 violations, the spokeswoman added. 

Benoit did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday regarding either the litigation or the violations.

One tenant at the building, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation, said he was most frustrated by the “lack of responsiveness” by management.

“At this point, they’re blaming everything on Con Edison, which I understand," he said. "But from my perspective, if they completed original repairs in a timely manner, we would not be where we are right now."

A Con Edison spokesman said Friday that the agency is "scheduled to meet the building's plumber at the site this weekend to test piping and turn on the gas for hot water."

"The building owner should have the status of any other work that is being done or will be done," he added.

Residents including Bendersky hope to see heat and hot water restored as soon as possible.

“It’s not life-threatening, but it does lower the quality of life,” he said. “On the bright side, I’m getting in very good shape, because I’m at the gym twice a day.”