Williamsburg tenants rally after months without gas
by Benjamin Fang
Nov 29, 2016 | 6440 views | 0 0 comments | 167 167 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dozens of tenants at 454 Bedford Avenue in South Williamsburg have gone more than nine months without gas service, and they’ve had enough.

The residents, along with tenants from four other nearby buildings that have suffered similar issues, rallied in front of the building on Monday night. Housing advocates called on the city to step in to make the appropriate fixes.

“The city has to assume an active role fixing and restoring cooking gas to the families in north Brooklyn,” said Rolando Guzman, deputy director for community preservation with St. Nicks Alliance.

According to Joanna Laine, an attorney with Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A who has been working on the case, gas was turned off in February after a tenant smelled gas in her apartment. The Fire Department shut off gas for about half of the building’s 40 units.

The Department of Buildings (DOB) has been waiting for the landlord to fix the gas system, but months later the repairs have not been made.

According to the DOB profile of the building, a stop work order was issued in October because gas meters were removed and gas fittings were replaced without any work permits.

Laine said her organization brought a lawsuit against the city and the landlord, but nothing has been done.

“We’re calling on the city now, which has been our partner in this fight, to step up its game,” Laine said. “There is so much more that can be done, not only by the landlord but also by the city, to make sure gas is restored promptly.”

She asked specifically for the city to increase enforcement of fines against landlords. Laine said this particular landlord has “thousands of dollars in fines” that are “just sitting out there.”

The attorney also asked the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to institute an Emergency Repair Program, where the city steps in, makes repairs and bills the landlord for the cost of repairs.

Laine argued that not having cooking gas for nine months should constitute an emergency.

The last nine months have been difficult for Christy Arroyo, who has lived in the building for 33 years. The single mother with four children said she spent Thanksgiving with no family members because they didn’t have gas in the building.

“It’s not fair,” Arroyo said. “All we’re looking for is a decent meal that is hot and freshly cooked.”

Her family has been getting by with a hot plate and ordering fast food. Arroyo said her electrical bills have nearly doubled in the last nine months.

Tenants from four other north Brooklyn buildings,183 Maujer Street, 36 Linden Street and 374 Wallabout Street, joined the rally. Advocates said they have been facing similar issues, including lack of gas and heat.

Maribel Lopez, a resident at 374 Wallabout street, said it has been 165 days since her apartment had cooking gas. Despite calling DOB, HPD and other city agencies, there has been no solution.

“HPD, you need to start working with the families in these buildings,” Lopez said. “This cannot continue to happen.”

Guzman said not fixing gas service is part of a tactic of harassment to drive out longtime tenants. Martin Needelman, co-executive director of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, said bad landlords will do “whatever is necessary” to displace tenants.

But Needelman also put the blame on the city for failing to act to address the needs of tenants.

“The real bad actors here is the city government, the mayor and housing court that completely failed to enforce the law,” he said. “That is their obligation, they are the ones who are responsible.”
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