Cold weather slams Bronx tenants

Daniel Viruet lives with his wife and newborn son in Belmont. On Tuesday, January 13, Viruet kept water boiling and fans blowing to heat his apartment. Photo by Victor Chu

Bronx temperatures plummeted on Monday, January 12, reaching lows in the single digits by Friday, January 15. Snow buffeted the borough over the weekend.

For most, the cold snap was an inconvenience. For some Bronxites, however, it was a calamity. Marlene Deleon is a new mother. So is Yasmyn Rodriguez. Both women said they spent part of the week without heat. Their property managers disagree.

“My apartment is freezing,” Deleon said Wednesday, January 14. “I wear sweatpants, socks, sweaters, shirts. My baby is six months old. He can’t be here. I sent him to live with my mother in Jersey.”

Deleon rents an apartment on Crotona Park N. One mile away, on Lorillard Place in Belmont, Rodriguez and her husband Daniel Viruet were desperate on Tuesday, January 13. No heat, no hot water and a sick newborn.

“It sucks,” said Viruet. “I keep the stove boiling two pans of water, then use fans to circulate the steam. We’re burning power. The gas from the stove gives me headaches.”

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Bronx apartments are frosty, thanks to an economic crisis, icy weather and embattled landlords.

“We’ve been inundated with calls,” said Angel Audissred, who works for Councilman Joel Rivera. “I’ve never seen it so bad, tenants complaining. Some landlords don’t have the money to pay for oil.”

Heat calls to 311 are up citywide, according to Seth Donovan, spokesman for the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Last winter, 47 percent of HPD’s calls were heat-related, this winter, 51 percent.

Two frigid months are to blame, Donovan said. The average temperature for October 2008 was 54 degrees, well below October 2007’s 63 degrees. So far, January 2009 is batting 31 degrees. The average for January 2008 was 42 degrees.

Last winter, HPD took 247,000 complaints. This winter, the housing department has received 278,000.

Many landlords are hard up. Aquinas Housing Corporation owns 48 Bronx buildings.

“The cost of natural gas is insane,” said Mike Brennan, director of the Bronx-based non-profit. “Most of our buildings run on gas heat.”

Aquinas keeps heat blasting no matter what, Brennan stated. It hasn’t been easy.

“We’ve gone into our reserve fund,” he said.

Rodriguez brought her baby home from the hospital Christmas Day…to a cold apartment. She and Viruet moved to Belmont in September.

Viruet phoned the building’s administrator, Colonial Group Management. On December 27, Colonial took care of the problem. Viruet phoned again Sunday, January 11. On January 13, Colonial ordered oil for the building’s boiler, a company representative said.

“Our boiler’s automatic water feeder is broken,” Viruet grumbled. “The super has to feed it manually, Flintstones-style.”

Deleon went without heat all of October, she said. In November, Langsan Properties Corporation replaced her building’s boiler. On January 11, Deleon lost heat again. She doesn’t know why.

Brian Lewis, director of Operations for Langsan, doesn’t believe Deleon. Maybe her radiator valve is open, he said. Maybe Deleon left her AC window unit in.

“We have everything computerized,” Lewis asserted January 15. “We’d know if the heat was off.”

According to Lewis, Deleon’s apartment enjoyed a low temperature of 72 degrees on January 11 and 12.

Donald Rongo lives at 1255 Puritan Avenue in the east Bronx. Since December, Rongo said, no nighttime heat. He’s filed complaints with HPD, but the city inspectors won’t visit at night.

“I’m very ill,” Rongo said Friday, January 16. “I have cancer. I have an aneurism. I could wind up dead by Tuesday.”

Antoinette Viotto, another tenant at 1255 Puritan, agreed. Her apartment is too hot during the day and too cold at night, Viotto said.

Their landlord, Joe Scalisi of Nintana Realty, tells another story. Rongo’s fellow tenants, he said, are content. Scalisi keeps the heat at 1255 Puritan Avenue above 66 degrees at night. On January 5, the NYC Department of Buildings issued a permit for a contactor to fix 1255’s boiler.

Peter Bourbeau heads PWB Management Corporation. According to Bourbeau, heat and rent go hand in hand. PWB, he said, collects 95 percent of its tenants’ rent.

“Some landlords turn off the heat, others do what we do,” he said. “Why deny somebody heat? You tick them off. You collect less rent. HPD visits your building.”

Blame game aside, Deleon, Viruet and Rongo are praying for warm days ahead. The National Weather Service has predicted another storm for the weekend of Saturday, January 24.

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