Dozens of residents of two Coney Island apartment complexes operated by the New York City Housing Authority have filed a lawsuit against the agency for failing to return gas service to their buildings, with some tenants living without the ability to cook for a full year.
“It is time that NYCHA be held accountable. We have the right to all the amenities afforded to us in our lease, by any means necessary,” said Sheila Smalls, president of the O’Dwyer Gardens tenant association.
Over 50 residents of Coney Island Sites 4 and 5 and O’Dwyer Gardens are members of a lawsuit that was filed on Aug. 31, most of who have suffered from long-term gas outages. Some plaintiffs have also been enduring unresolved and potentially life-threatening living conditions such as brown water and mold among other maintenance issues.
The group is receiving free representation from Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, a legal aid organization fighting for low to middle-income New York City residents, which Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus secured for the plaintiffs last month.
“NYCHA tenants are some of the most resilient tenants in the city. They withstand horrible conditions for an extreme amount of time and at times they accept it as normal but thankfully they are standing up for their rights and fighting back the status quo,” said Kristie Ortiz-Lam, Director of the Preserving Affordable Housing Program at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. “We need the city to make things right for these tenants and restore the gas. Enough is enough!” .
The Aug. 31 filing date came shortly after the one-year anniversary of when NYCHA turned off cooking gas for all 375 residents of Coney Island Sites 4 and 5. Some residents of nearby O’Dwyer Gardens have been without gas service for nearly seven months, with 120 apartments in Building 6 losing cooking gas in February and 16 apartments in Building 5 since the end of June.
“Here we are, it’s nothing sort of disgraceful what we allow to happen on our watch, anyone else would probably end up in prison if they treated their tenants that way, so hopefully the residents will get some reprieve,” Frontus said. “We always count on NYCHA to do the right thing, but sometimes they can’t do that on their own.”
A NYCHA representative told Brooklyn Paper the agency does not comment on active litigation.
Tenants of the two complexes were provided a single-burner hot plate and a crockpot from NYCHA following the outage, forcing many out to restaurants to buy food as they found it hard to cook for their family on such meager equipment, Smalls previously told Brooklyn Paper.
Frontus, who has been advocating for the NYCHA residents since the outage started, reached out to Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso to inform him of the lack of gas service, she said. The first-term Brooklyn leader immediately began distributing hot meals to residents from a food truck that came every weekday for six weeks.
“People are paying money that they don’t have, it’s burdensome and it’s costing people,” Frontus said, “It’s not just the psychological cost, but there is a financial cost because people now have to eat out, people now have to order take out, and who can do that for a year I certainly couldn’t live without a stove for a year.”
Tenants say NYCHA failed to warn them of upcoming and potential cooking gas outages, and that the housing authority hasn’t provided updates on the status of gas restoration.
Shortly after the outage, Smalls said NYCHA dropped pizza and burritos off in the lobby of one of the buildings at O’Dwyer Gardens without notifying anyone — she and her team discovered the food after it had gotten cold, and had to distribute it to tenants themselves.
When Building 5’s cooking gas was turned off, the complex’s Building 1 also lost service, but an NYCHA spokesperson last month told Brooklyn Paper that cooking gas was restored on July 21. As of mid-August, gas service for the 120 apartments at O’Dwyer Gardens’ Building 6 was in the restoration phase. The outage at Building 6 started in February, when Crews working to construct a new central boiler and backup generator broke a gas line.
Building 5 didn’t have as quick of a fix, as it was under the asbestos investigation and abatement stage, as of mid-August, and its outage was caused by a broken valve.
A NYCHA spox also told Brooklyn Paper last month that the outage affecting 376 apartments in one building at Coney Island Sites 4 and 5, caused by a leak in a main pipe, was in the construction phase of the service restoration, which is an intensive process. At the time, the restoration team has fully installed gas piping in Wing A and was working on Wing B. Once Wing B is completed, the restoration team will schedule work for wings C, D and E. Gas service can’t be restored until gas piping is installed and inspected in all five wings.
Brooklyn Legal Services, Frontus, and tenants are holding a “pre-court rally” on W. 25th Street on Friday, Sept. 23, to raise awareness about the lawsuit and the issues they are facing ahead of their Sept. 26 court date, according to the law firm’s Facebook page.