Cold comfort

When temperature drops, complaints rise


When Sophia Sass visited her 91-year-old grandmother in the Majestic at 3660 Waldo Ave., last November, there was no heat. It was so cold, in fact, both she and her grandmother had to bundle up in multiple layers of clothing.

“It’s terrible that people, when it’s very cold outside, have to suffer indoors,” Sass said. “That’s not a way to live in your apartment, freezing and being uncomfortable. And when you’re an elderly person, it’s worse.”

Sass called the building’s superintendent and the city numerous times, she said. Finally, in late November, the heat came on.

Sass’s grandmother wasn’t the only one feeling the chill. The city’s housing preservation and development department shows seven complaints of no-heat at the Majestic between October and December, part of an eight-month period through May 31 when owners are legally required to provide heat. 

Sass noted the Majestic — perched atop a steep, long flight of litter-strewn steps on the northeast edge of Kingsbridge, and close to the day-and-nighttime bustle of Manhattan College — has a history of chronic building code violations. Even after new owners Steven Neuman and Israel Weinberger repaired the building’s worst problems as specified by a judge’s consent order after they bought the property in 2013, and renovated many of its 87 units, heat is still an issue.

Edin Mujevic, the Majestic’s superintendent, said he’s worked there since 2014, and whenever a tenant has called the city complaining about heat, he rushes to fix the problem. Sometimes, it’s as simple as turning a valve.

“Now, thank God, heat is on,” he said.

Building manager Coltown Properties refused to give Riverdale Press reporters access to the boilers, but Mujevic said they’re operated by a computer system.

Nicholas Rose-Meyer, who’s lived in the Majestic for nearly four years, noted several recent no-heat “gaps” as outside temperatures plunged, leaving him particularly concerned for his infant’s health. But he was happy with Mujevic’s prompt response, quickly restoring heat, when he called to report the issue.

Replacing boilers at Schervier

Not too far from the Majestic, residents of Schervier Apartments at 2995 Independence Ave., in Spuyten Duyvil, also suffered heating outages during a brutally freezing stretch last month.

“Last week was terrible,” said Hak Shin, who lives in the building, on Jan. 10. “It was really bad, very cold. I don’t know what happened, but everybody complained since right after Christmas.”

Shin couldn’t recall exactly how long it took to fix, but said she’d never had a problem with the building’s heat in the past. Heat has since been restored, however — if not to the level she’d prefer, at least enough so that she’s not freezing in her apartment.

Another resident, Audrey Brito, had no recourse but to get creative.

“Last week, when it was very, very cold, my apartment was freezing,” she said, also on Jan. 10, and recalled hanging layer upon layer of extra curtains and drapes over her windows as insulation against the icy outside air.

Heat also was restored for Brito, but she’s at a loss as to why it lapsed in the first place.

“We’ve never had this problem before,” said Brito, who’s lived in Schervier Apartments for 14 years. “We always had heat and hot water.”

Housing preservation lists more than 20 complaints in the building between Oct. 31 and Jan. 3 that involved no heat, no hot water or both. 

A recently installed computer-operated heating system may be partly to blame. That was part of a project, with capital funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to replace Schervier’s aging heating system with “new energy efficient dual-fuel boilers,” said tenant coordinator Maria Vazquez, in an email. After a computer engineer was called in to inspect the boilers and make a variety of adjustments, “temperatures have been steadily improving.”

Housing manager Rosa Gaston gave reporters a tour of the new boilers, a series of stainless steel and insulated color-coded pipes, shiny red machines with blinking green, yellow and white lights, and digital displays.

“Everything is electronic, everything is brand new,” Gaston said, adding the whole system cost nearly $1 million.

Whenever a tenant calls building staff to complain about temperatures, a staff member goes to the unit to make sure windows are closed properly preventing cold air from drifting in. 

“Remember, it’s a senior citizen building,” Gaston said. “They’re fragile — they really don’t have the strength to open and close” the windows.

Another factor is where a unit is located, Gaston said. Those facing the water, for example, tend to be colder than units in other parts of the building less battered by chilly gusts of wind coming off the river.

As for the system itself, it’s far from flawless. 

“The new system, although top-the-line, is a complex new technology,” Vazquez said. “As with all new technologies, there is a learning curve, which we are dedicated to resolving as quickly as possible.”

If Shin and Brito say temperatures have reached more comfortable levels since December’s cold snap, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz still isn’t convinced the problem’s fully fixed.

“This has been an issue for several months now and should have been resolved already,” he said. “It would be almost criminal for these elderly people to not have adequate heat, and it’s actually shocking that an institution that’s well-regarded would not be doing the job that needs to be done.” 

In fact, it is criminal, said public advocate Letitia James.

“Despite below freezing temperatures, too many New Yorkers have been without heat or hot water in their apartments — conditions that are both illegal and immoral,” James said. “Many are seniors and children, our most vulnerable who have been suffering in the cold for weeks. It is unacceptable that any landlord would force tenants to live in such conditions.”