While many of us are prepping for a Thanksgiving feast, the tenants of 325 East 12th Street are stocking up on TV dinners. They won’t be able to cook a proper Thanksgiving meal in their own homes this year and haven’t been able to cook for quite a while. Their building has been without gas for over six months since demolition forced Con Ed to turn it off. With the holiday season upon them, they’re feeling the frustration more than ever.
This morning, tenants held a protest followed by a tour of the building, prior to a hearing in Housing Court. Seated at a table outside of the building were residents and members of the Toledo Tenant Coalition, and in front of them was a pile of Banquet frozen turkey dinners. They held signs that read “Landlord: ‘Oops, no gas… Let them eat cake batter” and “Brookhill Properties: Taking the ‘thanks’ out of Thanksgiving,” as well as ones with Toledano’s head on a turkey body with money in his mouth.
Landlord Raphael Toledano is being taken on in court by eight tenants. He has promised gas restoration and a better relationship with those living in 325, but they aren’t buying. Arlene Katz, member of the Toledano Tenant Coalition, referred to him as a “speculator rather than a landlord.” She said for him, real estate is a commodity but his actions “are affecting real people.” State Senator Brad Hoylman said he was “outraged that this still persists.” He asked what the situation says about his “integrity” as a businessman and referred to Toledano as a “greedy, callous, insensitive” landlord that “cares more about the profits” than the people that live in his buildings.
SaMi Chester, housing organizer at the Cooper Square Committee, talked about the great expenses that tenants face. Eating out frequently adds up quickly, and some tenants are fighting individual cases with Toledano and Brookhill Properties. Others can’t afford to take up individual cases.
Trissy Callon has been a tenant in 325 East 12th Street for over 39 years. She moved to New York City as a starving artist and is saddened that landlords like Toledano are making living in the city so expensive that the starving artist dream isn’t possible without multiple roommates. She said that since Toledano bought the building over a year ago, nearly half of its units have been gutted. Callon claimed that hired workmen smoked marijuana in the empty units and often screamed to each other in the halls, seemingly disregarding the fact that people still lived there. “Frankly, we’re effing sick if it,” she said.
Callon and other tenants feel like they have been threatened in a variety of ways. Another tenant, Nina D’Alessandro, said that people have shown up banging on their doors, claiming they come from “the bank” or insurance, requesting identification. She spoke of a “playbook,” and how Toledano began targeting the oldest and most vulnerable tenants with various lawsuits claiming that they legally cannot be living in the building.
While the building has been under construction, new tenants have been taken in for showings. Katz said that they are not being told about the lack of gas currently in the building.
In August, tenants of the East 12th Street building picketed an ice cream social held by Brookhill. At the time, a spokesperson for the company told The Real Deal that “this [gas] problem needs to be addressed by Con Edison and city officials.” Meanwhile, a Con Ed spokesperson told the site that the shutoff was caused by an internal gas leak and service couldn’t be restored until Brookhill made necessary repairs. We’ve asked Con Ed and Brookhill for further comment and will let you know what, if anything, we hear.
Update, Nov. 23: A spokesperson for Brookhill Properties has given us this statement.
We have been working tirelessly with all parties including our contractors, Con Edison, the New York City Department of Buildings and our tenants to repair and remedy this situation. Since 2015, the DOB has bought about a major increase in inspections many resulting in gas shut offs, and this was the case at 325 East 12th Street. Recognizing the inconvenience to tenants, Brookhill Properties has offered a rent abatement and stove top burners to all tenants in this building. Brookhill will continue to diligently work with Con Edison, DOB and our contractors toward the safe completion of all necessary work to restore gas to all of our tenants as soon as possible.