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BY SAM SPOKONY | Tensions are coming to a head at Gateway Plaza, where residents of the Battery Park City complex continue to suffer in cold due to faulty heating units and unsealed windows that allow ice and frigid air to leak into their apartments.
Some residents are even talking about a rent strike, although that action is not currently supported by the complex’s tenant association.
Last February, the LeFrak Organization — which owns the six-building, middle-income, 1,700-unit complex on South End Ave. — told tenants that all of their PTAC units (which provide heating and air conditioning), insulation and windows would be repaired or replaced by December 2013. But at this point, no new windows have been installed, no insulation repairs have taken place and only about 300 new PTAC units have been installed.
On Jan. 9, 200 additional heating units were delivered to Gateway, and are now in the process of being installed, according to Tenants Association President Glenn Plaskin — he acknowledged that development as “progress” on the issue — but that still leaves around 3,500 units to be replaced.
At the Community Board 1 Battery Park City Committee meeting Jan. 7, the idea for more aggressive tenant action came up while numerous Gateway residents were sharing their experiences of freezing indoor temperatures and ice forming along the inside of their windows.
“I think a rent strike is not out of the question,” said C.B. 1 member Tom Goodkind, who has lived at Gateway for 25 years and who, in addition to struggling with the cold weather, is one of many residents who thinks he has been overcharged for electricity bills due to faulty meters.
Several other residents supported that notion during the meeting — although many of their comments seemed to have been made in the heat of the moment — while acknowledging the difficulty of getting each of the complex’s 1,700 units onboard.
But following a meeting of the Gateway T.A.’s Executive Board on the evening of Jan. 9, Plaskin said that the T.A. does not consider a rent strike to be one of its primary options at this time, and declined to directly comment on the future possibility of attempting one. Instead, he said that he’s focused on a more diplomatic approach to making LeFrak aware of the ongoing problems.
“We want to work with the management on this, so my first option is always negotiation,” Plaskin told Downtown Express the next day. “I realize that the tenants are very upset, and they have reason to be. But screaming and yelling and threatening is not always the best strategy. We value our working relationship with management, because that’s how we can really get things done.”
However, Plaskin did say that he is in ongoing discussions with attorneys regarding the possibility of a lawsuit against LeFrak for violating city’s warranty of habitability, which requires landlords to provide tenants with a “livable, safe and sanitary apartment,” according to the city’s Rent Guidelines Board.
He declined to comment on the details of those discussions, or how likely it is that the T.A. will file a suit.
“When you’re trying to help 4,000 tenants, you have to reserve all options,” he said.
LeFrak declined to comment on both the status of heating unit and windows replacement and the possibility of further tenant actions.
Plaskin explained that, in order to continue more diplomatic communications with the landlord, the T.A.’s primary focus at this point is to bring tenants together and learn precisely the extent of their problems, as well as their opinions on future steps to be taken.
To that effect, he said that the Gateway T.A. will be holding a community forum some time at the end of February, to which all of the complex’s residents will be invited to voice their experiences and concerns.
Plaskin also said that said that, over the course of the next week, members of the T.A. will be setting up tables in Gateway building lobbies to collect more information from tenants, who are urged to share their problems and needs.
Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — who has been very active over the past few decades in securing affordable housing agreements and supporting tenants’ rights at Gateway — said on Jan. 10 that he plans, once again, to get involved in this issue.
“I am committed to continuing [my] efforts on behalf of Gateway Plaza residents, who have suffered for years because of poorly insulated windows and enormous electric bills,” Silver said in the emailed statement. “The recent frigid weather served to once again highlight these problems. I met with the Gateway Plaza Tenants Association and Battery Park City Authority Chairman Dennis Mehiel to discuss residents’ concerns, and I intend to work with Gateway’s owner to address them.”
The Battery Park City Authority did not respond to a request for comment.
Originally published Jan. 10, 2014