Playing with fire

Playing with fire
Susan Wallace

It’s like living in a powder keg.

A landlord who did illegal gas work on a Bay Ridge apartment building came close to blowing it and its hundreds of residents sky high, tenants say.

The owner had 100 feet of new gas pipe installed at the Fourth Avenue building without a permit, and when the city slapped him with a stop-work order on Sept. 21, he simply tore the notice down, records show. So National Grid workers didn’t know about the order and almost turned the gas back on a few days later before the property owner had corrected the dangerous piping. Only the intervention of residents in the nick of time averted a potential disaster, one tenant said.

“We came that close to the gas going on with the defects and stop-work order,” said resident Susan Wallace. “Like two planes in a near-miss. This is the very way that big accidents happen — usually a combination of several errors with poor information-sharing. It’s appalling.”

National Grid had found a gas leak in the basement of the building on Fourth Avenue and 82nd Street, and halted service on Sept. 11, according to a spokeswoman.

A Queens plumber obtained a permit only to replace valves to the building’s 54 residential gas meters on Sept. 14, city records show. But the worker who showed up failed to produce a plumbing license and claimed he did not speak English, Wallace said. Tenants smelled gas again on Sept. 20, and the Fire Department cleared the building, according to residents.

An inspector from the Department of Buildings found that someone had installed 100 feet of new gas pipe from various meters, all without a permit, and ordered a halt to work on restoring the gas until pipes were redone under proper permits. But the building’s owner tore down the notice and nearly conned National Grid into turning on gas a few days later without fixing the illegal piping, Wallace said.

Caught!: Then, on Sept. 21, the city slapped the landlord with a stop-work order for working on gas lines without a permit.
Susan Wallace

A National Grid spokeswoman confirmed that on Sept. 24 its workers did conduct a pressure test on the building’s gas system — the first step in restoring service — even though city records show that a stop-work order was still in effect, and the landlord had not obtained permits to fix the illegal piping, let alone secured the city-issued certificate proving he had corrected the shoddy work.

National Grid tests building pressure before it turns on gas, the spokeswoman said.

“We test the lines any time we’re getting ready to restore service,” said spokeswoman Karen Young.

Young did not respond to questions on whether the utility specifically knew about the stop-work order.

“Safety is our number one priority,” she said. “We work with City agencies and share information about building violations and rely on physical postings.”

National Grid did not respond to questions about why the utility conducted a pressure test without first verifying the city had issued a Certificate of Correction indicating the unsafe piping was fixed.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Busted again: The brazen building owner tore down the initial stop-work order, but a resident complained, so the city cited him again — note this second order is dated Sept. 25 and on the poster is scrawled a friendly reminder not to remove the notice.
Community News Group / Max Jaeger