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Masaryk Towers Residents Angered by Six-Week Gas Shutdown

 Tenants of Masaryk Towers will go six weeks without cooking gas.
Tenants of Masaryk Towers will go six weeks without cooking gas.
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Grand Street Settlement

LOWER EAST SIDE — Residents of an affordable housing co-op on Columbia Street were furious to learn they would have to go without cooking gas for six weeks after service was abruptly shuttered with no notice from management and no compensation, tenants said.

Tenants of Masaryk Towers suddenly found themselves without gas service Thursday morning, and only hours later were informed via a flier from the management office that the shutoff would drag on while repairs are made to the complex's gas pipes, said tenant Lilah Mejia, who said her attempts to get answers or compensation from Masaryk Towers Corporation have been ignored ever since.

"Residents don’t know what to do because we have a lot of residents on fixed income, a lot of seniors," said Mejia, who has been going door to door to check on residents ever since the shutdown.

The lack of gas has been a hardship for her personally, she added, noting her family doesn't have the budget to eat out every day.

"I have six kids — it would be crazy expensive," she said. "I cannot afford to order out."

Mejia's neighbor, Santos Rivera, said he is outraged by the sudden shutdown and management's evasiveness. 

"Quite frankly, I am livid," said Rivera. "This is ridiculous. They did this without any notice and we have to bear this for the next six weeks. It is completely unacceptable."

Rivera said he has two children, and constantly ordering out for the past few days alone has been a burden on his family.

"I cannot afford to be eating out every single day, breakfast, lunch and dinner," he said. "Unfortunately, we've been spending the money we have in the bank."

Management has flat-out refused requests to compensate tenants with rent credit or even hot plates during the shutdown, said Mejia.

A Con Edison spokesman said the company responded to a gas leak Tuesday, June 27 and made a temporary repair to the piping. A plumber subsequently found multiple leaks in the piping. The gas had to be shut off while a contractor hired by the building's management makes the necessary repairs, said the spokesman.

Mejia said she got a call from a neighbor around 10 a.m. Thursday complaining that her gas had been turned off. She recalled that firefighters and Con Edison workers had been at the complex Tuesday morning because someone reported smelling gas.

Thursday afternoon, hours after service had been shuttered, tenants got a notice from the Masaryk Towers Corporation notifying them that "required repairs to the piping" was already underway and that the process would take roughly six weeks.

An "informational meeting" on the repairs is set for July 8. In the meantime, residents are being asked to clear their schedules so someone can come by to switch their stoves off prior to the meeting.

Tenants of one of the complex's buildings had to make their apartments available from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, while tenants of two other buildings would have to be available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, the flier said.

Masaryk Towers, a Mitchell Llama development in which the majority of tenants are considered low-income, became the subject of controversy recently when management abruptly shuttered a gate that for years had provided safe passage to neighborhood youth and seniors seeking services at the nearby Grand Street Settlement community centers.

After a weeks-long battle in which the settlement requested access for its young and elderly participants, Masaryk issued a letter stating the gate would remain closed due to safety and insurance concerns — Grand Street Settlement had offered to extend its insurance coverage to the walkway.

Masaryk Towers directors did not return a request for comment.

The letter sent by the corporation can be read in full below.

The Masaryk Towers Corporation sent a letter to residents informing them of a six-week gas shutoff after their gas had been shut off. (Lilah Mejia)