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Rent increase, a pain in their gas

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No gas for three months? Tough.

A rent increase to cover the repairs for it? Not so priceless.

That’s the gripe tenants at 3555 Bruckner Boulevard have after they figured their ordeal with no cooking gas was finally over.

Then on Friday, June 8, tenants found notices in their mailboxes that their landlord had applied for a capital improvement grant for replacing the gas lines that would increase their rent.

Building owner Richard Hill is claiming $200,000 for the renovation, which if granted, would increase tenant’s rent by $17 a month for the next seven years.

Tenants association president Sonia Melendez said the notice came as a surprise, since tenants got no compensation for the three months without gas service.

“The other problem is, a lot of the tenants do not speak English, and we only have 30 days to comment on the rent increase, and everything must be written in English, ” Melendez said. “Due to the gas outage, we had a lot of tenants that moved out, so we have 142 apartments and we need 80 percent to send this form challenging it back.”

Tenants had no gas from October 7 through December 31, she said, and had to deal with electric bill increases, health issues, and costs to repair cabinets, floors and walls after the gas pipes were replaced.

Ritchie Torres, director of housing service for Councilman Jimmy Vacca, said it is typical for landlords to apply for major capital improvement rent increases after making a major renovation, like replacing gas pipes.

Vacca and Torres worked with tenants during the gas outage, and also helped identify multiple building violations.

According to Torres, the building still has 228 open violations: 162 Class B “hazardous” violations; and 22 Class C “immediately hazardous” violations. Class C violations must be repaired within 24 hours, he said.

“We didn’t get any help from the super or from the building owner,” Melendez said. “If it wasn’t for us getting together and forming an association we would still be without gas.”

Melendez said some people are still living with a large floor-to-ceiling hole in their apartment walls.

“Why should we have our rent increased when they haven’t even repaired the damage done to our homes from the repairs?” she said.

Pat McConnell, a tenant for 22 years, said her first thought was “how dare they” when she received the letter.

“My blood pressure went through the roof,” she said. “It came right after we got the other letter that said we weren’t eligible for compensation for the gas, so I don’t think they are entitled to a rent increase.”

Valerie Ruiz, a tenant of the building for over 20 years, said although the gas outage caused a major inconvenience for her, at one of the busiest times of the year for her, she understands why the building owner is trying to increase the rent.

“I understand they had to invest and put in a lot of money, but unfortunately they were all issues that could have been resolved if it was taken into immediate action instead of prolonging it as long as they could because, just like anything else, it snowballed out of control.”

Calls to reach building owner Richard Hill were not returned.

Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at ksanchez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394

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