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Harlem apartment complex leaves thousands without gas service since November

Repairs are progressing at a "turtle's pace," residents say.
Riverside Park Apartments at 3333 Broadway.Amanda Mikelberg

Residents at themammoth West Harlem apartment complex have suffered through a Dickensian winter.

Tenants in about 1,200 apartments at 3333 Broadway weren’t able to boil water on their stoves, let alone bake a Christmas ham.

Someliving at Riverside Park Community even went without heat and hot water intermittently during the four months their gas was, and still is, off.

The shut-down followed a resident’s Nov. 28 complaint about an odor of gas emanating from a utility room. That led to the discovery of a gas leak. To avert catastrophe, every gas line in the five-tower complex had to be closed it goes through a complicated process of repair and inspection.

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Residents from buildings A through Eare fuming as the company that owns the building, Urban American, has providedscant information about the issue and relatively nothing about when to expect service to be restored.

"It's one nightmare after another," one tenant told Metro. "It's clear it's moving at a turtle's pace."

People from the management company defended the massive challenge.

“Not even God made it happen in one day,” assistant building manager Hansel Olivares told Metro. “We’re going as fast as we can.”

Cooking for five people on a portable electric stove has been a tough task for Mery Mendoza, who’s lived at Riverside Park for 26 years. Her electric bill skyrocketed to $250 a month — owing to the electric cooker.

Lesley Cordero, 22, moved into her studio in January, not knowing that she wouldn’t be able to cook. And the $90 discount offered on her $1795 rent has barely covered her dining-out expenses, she said.

Even the clothes dryers were cold until about a month ago.

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Restoring the gas is a lengthy, complex process, a spokesperson for the city'sDepartment of Buildingsexplained. The building owners must hire a licensed master plumber to do initial inspections, file permits and makerepairs.

Zone by zone, as repairs are made, the plumber requests the DOB to do an inspection to authorize service restoration. Finally, the utility company, in this case Con Edison, will do final “integrity tests” before turning the gas back on.

“Access to the apartments has made pressure testing difficult,” Con Edison spokesperson Sydney Alvarez said. “The plumbers expect repairs to take weeks. They have to have access to every single apartment, and that can be time-consuming.”

As of March 23, service to 334 apartments had been restored. Another 856 still do not have gas. The DOB indicated that they have granted the authorization each time they’ve come out for inspection, the last time occurring on March 9.

“If there is a good note in this, it’s that someone took the initiative to call about the gas leak,” Alvarez said, adding that people must speak up — call 911 — if they smell the signature rotten egg smell of the chemical added to gas for safety.

It could take a few more months for gasto be fully operational system-wide, Olivares said. Additional calls to the legal department at Urban American went unanswered by press time.

Update 3/27/17:

Statement from Urban American: "Urban American has been working closely with the city, ConEd, and the tenants association to resolve this extremely complex issue and are committed to getting gas restored to all apartments as quickly as possible. We have been distributing updates to tenants on a weekly -- and at times daily -- basis, including email blasts and dropping paper notices in person at each of the more than 1,000 apartments with details about work that has been completed and what's coming up. Gas is about to be restored to hundreds more apartments, and we expect to have this fully resolved in the coming weeks."

 
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