Tenants of two Coney Island NYCHA complexes to file lawsuit after longtime gas outages

screenshot of entry to o'dwyer gardens
At least 136 apartments at NYCHA’s O’Dwyer Gardens are still without gas, and frustrated residents are joining forces with other NYCHA complexes and Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus to file a lawsuit against the New York City Housing Authority.
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Over 50 residents of Coney Island’s O’Dwyer Gardens and Coney Island I Sites 4 and 5 are part of a lawsuit filed against the New York City Housing Authority for failing to fix their cooking gas in a timely manner.

 “We are proud to stand with the tenants of Sites 4 & 5 and O’Dwyer Gardens and will fight with them in ensuring their basic rights to essential services,” said Kristie E. Ortiz-Lam, Esq., director of the Preserving Affordable Housing Program at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A.

Coney Island Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus announced last she had secured free representation for the public housing residents from Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, who plan to file a group action lawsuit in the next two or three weeks for the O’Dwyer residents and tenants of Sites 4 and 5— some of who haven’t had cooking gas since August 2021— and  residents of other Coney Island public housing complexes who are enduring issues like brown water, mold, and other maintenance problems as a result of long-term neglect by the city.

The agency does not comment on pending litigation, an agency spox told Brooklyn Paper.

Holding NYCHA accountable

“Nobody should have to endure days, weeks, or in some cases a full year without basic services including cooking gas in their homes, no matter where they live. These residents pay their rent, are good tenants, and deserve respect and basic dignity from NYCHA,” Frontus said in a statement. “I have stood with them since these issues began over a year ago and I promised to do everything I can to rectify this untenable and unacceptable situation. I’m eternally thankful to the attorneys from Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A for taking this case and helping us fight back which hopefully will compel the City to finally take action.” 

mathylde frontus at NYCHA lawsuit
Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, at center, secured free legal representation for hundreds of NYCHA tenants who have been without cooking gas for months, the pol announced last week. Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus/Twitter

Tenants of O’Dwyer Gardens’ Building 6 have been without cooking gas since February when contractors broke a gas line, and part of Building 5 and all of Building 1 has been without gas since June 24. At the time, tenants feared the whole complex was going to lose power before NYCHA would get around to fixing the issue.

“I want to thank our Assemblymember Frontus for her continued diligent support to hold NYCHA accountable for the impact the lack of gas and other services is constantly having on its residents,” said Sheila Smalls, president of the tenants’ association at O’Dwyer Gardens, in a statement. “This lawsuit is sadly the last alternative in order to push back on NYCHA for the lack of service and amenities we are receiving as rent-paying tenants. All we want is our gas restored.”

At the end of June, the public housing authority told Brooklyn Paper they had begun work to restore gas to the two buildings impacted by the June 24 outage and planned to begin work for Building 6 on July 5. 

An NYCHA spokesperson reported to Brooklyn Paper that gas service was restored to Building 1 on July 21, and that as of August 15, 120 apartments in Building 6 and 16 apartments in Building 5 are without gas service. 

Gas service for Building 6’s 120 apartments is in the process of being restored after the gas line was broken during the construction of a new central boiler and backup generator plant at the complex. 

However, the gas outage at Building 5 – impacting 16 apartments– may take longer to fix. Crews are currently investigating and abating asbestos at the site, as the construction could release the hazardous substance into the air impacting residents as workers are repairing a broken valve. 

In the meantime, residents have only been provided meals on less than a dozen occasions, and otherwise are expected to cook for themselves all this using crockpots and hot plates NYCHA has issued them to use while awaiting gas service to return, according to Smalls, which has pushed many residents to eat out for their meals.

“Some people have to go out and buy food two times a day,” Smalls told Brooklyn Paper at the time. “That little burner they got, you can’t sit and feed a family of five on two burners.”

Smalls said NYCHA was not keeping residents of Building 6 up-to-date on the service interruptions and that she hadn’t heard much from the agency at all until the other two buildings lost service. At that time, the housing authority apologized and dropped pizzas and burritos in the lobby of one of the buildings without notifying residents.

“They knew they were wrong, they apologized immediately. They said pizza and burritos which I do not consider a meal,” Smalls said back in June. “They sent that to the lobby and left it unattended so they just dropped off food.”

Her team ended up having to distribute the food, which the tenant association president said added insult to injury. 

Gas outages continue as repairs progress slowly

At Coney Island Sites 4 and 5, one building — totaling 376 apartments — has been without gas service since August 2021 due to a leak in the building’s main gas pipe. An NYCHA spokesperson said the building’s gas restoration is in the construction phase, and new gas piping has been installed in Wing A and is currently being put in Wing B. After completing Wing B, workers will set the schedule for Wings C, D and E. Gas service cannot be restored until work is complete in each of the building’s five wings and inspected. 

Since the outage has hit its one-year anniversary, Sites 4 and 5’s Tenant Association President Felicita Jackson said residents believe this is the only next step to improve their quality of life and receive what they are entitled to as tenants of the city agency. 

NYCHA tenants meet with lawyers about gas outage lawsuit
Lawyers from Brooklyn Legal Services met with tenants of NYCHA’s O’Dwyer Gardens and Coney Island I (Sites 4 & 5) as the organization prepares to file a group action lawsuit against the agency. Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus/Twitter

“Our three buildings have all been without gas since last August 2021 and this has been a major inconvenience for the residents. Until the repairs are finally made, it’s difficult to cook in our apartments because they only gave us a single hot plate. So it’s a huge relief knowing that the Assemblymember is helping connect us with the lawyers,” Jackson said. 

Restoring gas service in NYCHA buildings is a long, complicated process requiring multiple partners and phases including shutting off the gas, conducting repairs, inspection and coordinating with service providers in order to safely restore service, according to a NYCHA rep. 

The spokesperson added that the gas outage only impacts cooking gas and does not affect heat or hot water, and said the agency has been diligent in keeping tenants apprised of their progress in restoring the service. 

The agency representative reminded residents to continue to use the MyNYCHA app or call the Customer Contact Center at 718-707-7771 to create a work order ticket for any maintenance needs, including service interruptions.