The photo at left is evidence that Stage Restaurant was illegally siphoning gas and attempted to cover it up in the wake of an explosion across the street, says an attorney for the landlord that’s punting the restaurant from its home of 35 years. But Stage’s owner calls the allegation “absurd,” and says he has evidence of his own to prove it.
The beloved East Village diner received a notice from its landlord Monday demanding that it vacate 128 Second Avenue by the end of the month. The notice, first posted by WNYC, came after Con Edison turned off the gas March 29 because, according to a Department of Buildings official, Con Ed found the line was “inappropriately accessed.”
The next day a tenant called the DOB with a complaint, said Joseph Goldsmith, attorney for Icon Realty Management LLC, the company that owns the building. Goldsmith told B+B he doesn’t know what prompted the tenant to call, but when DOB inspectors arrived they found someone in the basement working on the gas lines without a permit; Goldsmith said the respondents took photos of the person who was in the basement but that he has not been able to see them yet.
There was evidence that gas was being siphoned around the Stage’s meter, Goldsmith said. “What we believe was happening was that after the explosion across the street the people who had installed the siphoning mechanism were trying to uninstall it and were in the process of doing it at the time the inspectors arrived,” he said. Requests for more details from the DOB have not been returned.
“It looks like they didn’t get to the point of reconnecting the pipes,” he added, pointing out that photos taken by Icon Realty show a shiny new round piece of equipment, pictured here, which he believes was installed to replace a siphoning mechanism. Goldsmith said his firm, Kossoff, PPLC, is in the process of obtaining the Stage’s gas bills but has not yet received them. “We asked their attorneys to provide us with copies because we believe it’s going to show their consumption of gas is substantially lower than it should be for a business of that type and size,” he said. According to Goldsmith, the restaurant has its own contract with Con Edison but must acquire the proper permits from the city and get the landlord’s approval before any alterations can be made to gas lines in the building.
Stage Restaurant owner Roman Diakun, who also resides at 128 Second Avenue, refutes any wrongdoing and told Bedford + Bowery today that the allegations are “absurd.” He said he has Con Edison statements that can prove he wasn’t stealing gas, though he said that for now the documents need to stay between him and his lawyer. “They just want to make a case,” he said of his landlord. He claims that he knew work was being done on the gas lines but that he was unaware he needed a permit. Last week, at a meeting of businesses affected by the explosion, Diakun said his friend, a licensed plumber, had offered to install improvements that he thought would enable the city to give the go-ahead to turn on the gas sooner. “I didn’t think I did anything wrong,” he said. “OK, I didn’t get a permit, but I thought it was an emergency.”
The Stage Restaurant has been a fixture of the neighborhood since 1980. “I’ve been here for 35 years, and they accuse me of stealing gas,” Diakun vented to the other business owners at the meeting. A petition started by his son, Andrew Diakun, had earned 1,043 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.
“I miss it,” East Village resident Lola Saenz said of the restaurant and its pierogis today. “There’s no other place where you can really feel at home.” She was on her way to visit Dave Spiteri, who has lived at 128 Second Avenue for 40 years. Like the other residents of the 22 apartments in the building, he has had to make due with no gas stove and finicky hot water. Spiteri, who has known Diakun since since the restaurant owner moved into the building three decades ago, doesn’t believe Diakun had anything to do with siphoning the gas line. “He’s the most honest man in the world,” he said.
Goldsmith said that, unfortunately, due to a pressure test that must be done before the gas can be resumed, there needs to be about $90,000 worth of upgrades to retrofit the gas lines throughout the entire building. “It’s not that the old pipes couldn’t handle the pressure,” he said, but that they could possibly give out under the sudden increase in pressure that comes from turning the lines off suddenly and turning them back on again. “Had it never been turned off in the first instance, the lines were fully functional,” Goldsmith said.
He added that Icon has made arrangements to provide tenants with temporary water boilers and electric double boil hotplates for cooking. For those who find they’re still unable to reside in their apartments, Icon is offering to pay tenants $200 a day for hotel accommodations until hot water is restored.
According to the Department of Buildings, there is also currently a second stop work order on the building, issued on April 9 for construction including electrical and plumbing work in three apartments. Goldsmith said his client had hired workers to make renovations on several units but that the contractors accidentally left three of the apartments off the original permit. He said the landlord is working on filing for new permits to correct the mistake.