An investigation by Our Town has found a dramatic increase in gas shutoffs impacting rent stabilized tenants.

According to a March 3 story in the community newspaper, the Department of Buildings received 343 shutoff reports from Con Edison in 2015, a 400 percent increase from the previous year. The utility company has already turned off the gas in 157 buildings so far this year. Our Town talked with Ruby Mak, a resident of 53 Ludlow Street in Manhattan who has been without gas service since September. AAFE has been advocating for Mak and her fellow tenants. Here’s an excerpt from the story:

“Since the spring of last year we started noticing a lot of people coming in that had no gas, either cooking gas or heat and hot water,” said Donna Chiu, director of housing and community services for Asian Americans For Equality. Chiu called the increase “freakish,” and said AAFE is working with Mak’s building and almost a dozen others in Chinatown and the Lower East Side to restore services. And Chiu, like many housing advocates, has witnessed a pattern of exploitation by building owners who prolong service interruptions in an effort to pressure rent-stabilized tenants into leaving their apartments. The dozen or so residents in Mak’s building, at 53 Ludlow Street, brought a Housing Part action in court – or HP in housing parlance, the part of the law used to force a landlord to make repairs or mitigate a loss of services. Under a settlement, landlord Sky Management will provide a $100/month rent abatement retroactive to Sept. 21 of last year, when the outage occurred. The landlord must also provide hot plates for tenants.

The Department of Buildings stepped up inspections after a fatal gas explosion last spring in the East Village. Numerous tenant advocates told Our Town that some landlords are “opportunistically prolonging gas shutoffs to pressure rent stabilized tenants into leaving their apartments.”

Evan Hasbrook, a housing lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, said that, all too often, “You end up in housing court and the landlord says either that Con Ed is dragging its feet… or that the tenant is not providing access to Con Ed or the landlord. They try to pass the blame wherever they can and make an excuse, but legally it’s pretty clear this all falls on the landlord.”

You can read the full article here.