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Tenants Withhold Rent After Landlord Cuts Cooking Gas to Harlem Building

By Gustavo Solis | September 26, 2017 3:46pm
 Residents of an apartment building where some units haven’t had cooking gas in more than a year are suing the landlord of neglecting the building and some are withholding their rent.
231 East 117th Street
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EAST HARLEM — Marie Miranda, 66, who suffers from a herniated disk and osteoporosis, walks half a mile to her daughter’s apartment whenever she needs to cook.

When heading down the stairs of her building at 231 E. 117th St., she has to clutch the railings and take short breaks.

Cooking gas service has been sporadic throughout the building since 2016, when a neighbor reported a leak, but Miranda hasn't been able to use her stove since July.

The building's management company, Arch Rock, gave her and other tenants a two-burner hot plate, but when Miranda tried to use both burners at the same time, it threw off sparks.

“How do they expect us to live like this?” she said.

Now, Miranda and neighbors in the same predicament have taken their problem to housing court, where they they sued the building's owners on Sept. 8 to force them to correct the property's 144 code violations, pay overdue fines, and stop harassing tenants by shutting off hot water and cooking gas.

The lawsuit also accuses the landlords — Yehuda Ruzorsky, George Zayas and 231 East 117th LLC — of illegally installing electric stoves in several apartments without having building permits.

The landlords first shut off the gas line to several apartments in January 2016, after a tenant reported a leak. The owners didn’t submit any paperwork to repair the leak and, in October 2016, shut off another gas line after another tenant reported a second leak, according to the Department of Buildings.

The city did not receive a permit to replace the leaking gas pipes until April 2017. But when the owners finally tried to fix the problem, they made matters worse.

“DOB inspectors [in July] found that the gas plumbing work was improperly done, and gas was being illegally supplied to the building through the improper piping without first getting DOB inspections for the work,” DOB spokesman Andrew Rudansky wrote in an email.

In the interest of public safety and the possibly lethal ramifications of illegal gas work, the city asked Con Edison to shut off the building’s gas.

When DOB inspectors tired to visit the building in August, the super refused to let them in, Rudansky added.

At least one resident, Ugurcan Bas, stopped paying rent.

Bas’s cooking gas was shut off in October 2016, he said, and the management company pledged to fix the problem by May. When they missed their own deadline, he stopped paying.

“It says on the lease that they have to maintain the apartment,” Bas explained. “If the rent money isn’t in their account, that will get their attention.”

Meanwhile, several tenants have moved out of their rent-stabilized apartments over the past year because they can’t cook. Those units are now being renovated, and the rest of the building is full of dust, rats and construction noise, Miranda said.

The management company, Arch Rock, did not respond to a request for comment about the gas and building conditions.

This isn’t the first time the East 117th Street building has struggled with landlords.

In 2007, before the housing market crashed, a London-based real estate firm bought several buildings in East Harlem with the intention pushing out low-income residents, rehabilitating their apartments and charging more to younger affluent tenants, according to the New York Times. The firm, Dawnay Day, reportedly pulled this off in London’s gentrifying neighborhood of Brixton and wanted to do the same in East Harlem. The ended up selling the building in 2016.

Miranda believes that this is the same thing the new owners are doing, particularly because people who had been without gas moved out and now their apartments are being renovated.

“They are getting away with everything," she said, "and it’s not right."