MIDWOOD/KENSINGTON – There’s a brick building that sits on Parkville Avenue. It’s between East 8th Street and Newkirk Avenue, right across a charter school, which is right next to a Catholic church. In a time where schools have closed, the city is shutting down, and everyone is asked to stay home because of the coronavirus, the street is calm. But everything inside 250 Parkville Avenue is not. For the last month hundreds of neighbors at this 63 unit building, owned by one NYC’s worst landlords, have had no cooking gas.
On February 12, 2020, there were a couple of notices taped on the glass door of the building. “Gas has been shut off by [the] direction of Department of Buildings (DoB),” one stated. Right next to it, in a yellowish paper, was a long summons from the DoB. On the top, in pencil, was written, “DoB/APD/Illegal Conversion Task Force.” It stated the date of a hearing, March 31, and had two boxes checked off. One was “Rooftop access and means of egress,” which states, “Failed to provide access/egress free from obstructions or impediments, and/or failed to maintain required egress at the rooftop and left side of fire passage inner gate.”
The other box that was checked off, states, “Fire-rated doors and windows: Failed to (provide/protect/maintain) required (fire-rated/self-closing/access) door or window at the Boiler Room.” And then right next the summons was a notice from the National Grid, which states, “Shut off [the] gas meter, locked as per DoB.”
Based on rumors inside the building, the Boiler Room had been illegally converted into a laundromat. Perhaps, after repeated attempts by the DoB to comply with regulations, the building finally received a summons and the cooking gas was shut off because of it. And now the tenants have to suffer. Again.
But, according to the management, despite the details in the summons, the cooking gas was shut off “for reasons not clear.”
As an added bonus, the building’s landlord, Eric Silverstein, topped the Public Advocate’s 2018’s “Worst Landlord’s List.” He came in number 1. And last year, he came in number 3, with four buildings on the watchlist, with an average of 1,144 open HPD violations and 24 DoB violations. In this building, there seems to always be a problem.
In June 2018, for example, the management put a notice up a day before Eid al-Fitr, stating that water will be shut off the day of Eid “for required plumbing maintenance.” The building is home to at least 10 Muslim families. After our reporting, the Public Advocate’s office got involved, and water was not shut off on Eid.
The building’s elevator constantly has tickets posted outside its doors. It is often out of service, sometimes for a week. Sometimes, for one part of the day. Tenants are used to it by now. Last week, a tenant pressed the button, the elevator didn’t come down, he looked at the elderly woman also waiting for the elevator, told her “It’s not working again,” and everyone sighed and trekked up the stairs together. But the lack of cooking gas has made it all much worse.
About two and a half weeks after the cooking gas was shut off, management gave out small electric plates to each tenant. Many had complained to management that they cannot keep eating takeout every night. So, everyone got a plate. Tenants realized that their electricity bill was going to be high because of it.
Then, the coronavirus hit. And the City asked people to stay at home. If people cannot cook at home because there’s no cooking gas, and there’s no work for them to earn money, and now they have to pay the high bill that comes with using the electric stove, how do they live?
“I knew the bill was going to be high. But I thought I would just work extra time to make it work,” one tenant who is a cab driver told Bklyner. “How am I supposed to do that now? We have no work in the City. No one needs a cab because no one is outside. How do we pay the bills now? How do we stock up?”
Bklyner has been calling the management every week for updates. Every week, the management says the cooking gas will “turn back on before this weekend.” It has been four weekends and the cooking gas has yet to turn on.
Tenants filed reports with 311. On February 15, so did we. Today, on March 16, the status of the report is still “in progress.”
For the cooking gas to turn back on, the proper repairs need to be made by a licensed plumber. Management keeps telling tenants it’s the DoB’s fault the gas turned off. But it is up to the management to get a plumber and fix it. It’s been over a month and that has not happened.
This morning, a tenant called the management’s office again. She asked, “When will the cooking gas come back?” The secretary replied, “We don’t know when the gas will come back. When it does, I’ll make sure you are the first to know.”
The tenant responded, “You’ve been saying that for the past month. We called two weeks ago and you said the same thing.”
The secretary said, “No, you have not called me in the past two weeks.”
The tenant said, “We can pull out our caller history.”
The secretary replied, “I don’t like your attitude,” and hung up.
“How do they expect us to be quarantined and not provide us with cooking gas to cook at home since we can’t eat outside since the restaurants are closing? We can’t even afford to order takeout. Nor can we afford to pay the electricity bills that come with the electric stove, since we are quarantined and not working,” the tenant told Bklyner. “Why is our management behaving like this? What are we supposed to do?”