Residents of a Bay Ridge apartment building are demanding their landlord discount their rent for the nearly half a year they lived without cooking gas — but the landlord is insisting the tenants pay up.
“All we ask, we want an abatement, we want you to hear us,” said a resident named Jasmine. “[We want you to know] it wasn’t easy for us to go on without gas and other problems that have been going on with the building. “
A handful of tenants protested outside of 303 99th St. on April 30 calling for a 30 percent discount for the five months they lived without cooking gas — an inconvenience which forced many of the residents to rack up bills ordering takeout and live off of unhealthy microwave meals.
“I have a microwave and toaster oven but not being able to throw pans on the stove and cook food was a lot of money spent on takeout,” said Nolan Roberts, an eight-year resident of the building, “and a lot of eating frozen dinners, which are convenient but they are not really that good for you.”
Revlyn Apartments, the management company for the building, named ‘The Dorset,” counter-offered a $30 discount for rent from October through February, when there was no cooking gas — a proposition the residents said was laughable.
“He returned back with an offer of $30 per month which is significantly less than what we asked for,” Roberts told Brooklyn Paper. “$30 is one or two days of takeout.”
Shortly after turning the gas back on, residents say the landlord, Alen Polen, left notices for tenants who didn’t pay their rent — urging them to pay up or face eviction.
‘We have to beg for something to be fixed’
The months without cooking gas were just the tip of the iceberg for some tenants.
Coupled with the inability to cook, first-floor residents like Roberts were faced with on-again, off-again construction inside of their apartments for nearly two months before the building was hit with stop-work orders from the city.
“It was on and off. They were here for a few weeks, did all of the demo work, then they would come and they would go,” Roberts told Brooklyn Paper. “And then the stop-work orders got put up, and then it was paused for a month or two, and then they came back and started working again. “
Since then, Roberts said he’s been left with exposed pipes that weren’t there prior to the outage, and large patches on his ceiling from when workers had to get through to the gas lines. To top it off, the building’s laundry room dryers are still not working — leaving tenants with yet another expense.
“[It] doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said. “If everybody’s got gas in their apartment then why don’t the dryers work?”
But this isn’t the first time tenants have been inconvenienced by construction in the building. During his first five years in the building, Roberts said, hot water pipes exploded underneath his ground floor unit three times.
“It is not the first time that I’ve had construction done at my apartment where I have had steam pipes that burst under the floors, then a construction site for four to five days,” he said, adding that never once was he offered a hotel during the work — which would typically last as long as four days. He was only put up once after “begging” the landlord for reprieve.
“They never offered to put us up in a hotel,” Roberts said. “One time I had to beg, borrow and plead to get them to put us up for two out of the four days they were going to be working. That was all he would do was two days.”
More than the money
Discounted rent aside, tenants are also asking the landlord to keep up with regular maintenance of the building, and to be proactive about fixes so to avoid anther long-term shutdown, as there was with the cooking gas.
“We have to beg for something to be fixed and for the superintendent to handle it appropriately,” said another resident, Laura. “We are simply asking for regular maintenance for our building, that’s it.”
At the April 30 press conference, an aide from area Councilmember Justin Brannan’s office blasted the landlord for requesting patience from his tenants when the gas needed to be fixed, only to turn around and threaten residents with eviction shortly after it was up and running.
“It is absolutely preposterous that after five months of these tenants living without cooking gas in a pandemic over the holidays in the cold winter months, to now be handed rent demands as a precursor to an eviction,” said Kayla Santuosso, Brannan’s deputy chief of staff.
Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus has also been advocating for residents throughout their plight and attended a protest on Thanksgiving, along with Brannan, when residents’ cooking gas was still out during the holiday.
For now, tenants are weighing their legal options, according to Jared Watson, a representative from the Gowanus-based economic justice group Fifth Avenue Committee, and have found a lawyer to represent them in court if they cannot come to a deal with their landlord. While their plight is all too common, Watson said, he expects a judge will hand down a more favorable directive than the zero-offer Polen has put on the table.
The landlord could not be reached for comment.