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Steam Emergency

NYC Rent Regulation: Rent Control/Rent Stabilized, DHCR Practice/Procedures

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Steam Emergency

Postby Cazmia » Fri Feb 01, 2019 8:13 am

A tenant contacted me, because he came home to find his unit filling up with steam. I assumed he may have been (slightly) over reacting, but when I actually came to see the situation, the place was filled with smoke so thick, you could not see.

Water was raining from his ceilings and most of his belongings were being soaked through from the steam. The cloud would eventually subside, only to start again as soon as the boiler powered up again (estimate every 20 minutes?)

The tenant had to leave on an urgent job out of town and left me the key to his unit (I am the head of the Tenant's Association).

I panicked and had an emergency plumber come in after 11pm. They replaced a corroded, inoperative radiator, dugs up his floors and found 2 broken steam pipes, but were unable to complete the job because they need landlord's permission to access the basement/boiler. They said there are more corroded pipes, and whoever worked on the boiler last left water in the system and set the pressure too high. The steam is worse than ever, and there is a hole in the floor with the broken pipe exposed, and the old radiator is in the way next to the new one.

I texted the only number I was given for the building manager at 1:30am in the morning. Steam has been filling up this tenant's apt all night and still no response at 7am.

Is it trespassing to force the super to allow access to the emergency plumber to complete this work? Mind you, this is a licensed private professional plumber, but not someone sent by the landlord or the city.

The tenants belongings are being ruined as I write this. Ridiculous situation. It has been implied by some that the owner us trying to damage the building to make this rent stabilized tenant 's home unlivable.

Should we proceed with our own plumber being that the owner/manager may have bad intentions?
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby TenantNet » Fri Feb 01, 2019 11:42 am

In my view, an emergency is just that and you did whatever you could to stop the problem. I'm assuming there is no super or staff on premises. (is one required? look into that). Also make sure the tenant, when he returns, signs a statement that he gave you permission to enter and take measures to stop the problem.

Did you call Con Ed? They have a 24/7 emergency team. While they can't replace the owner's equipment, they can turn off the flow of steam (so I've been told). Of course the problem is that the last few days have been so cold, I'm sure you don't want to leave other tenants without heat.

Did you call 311? They (HPD) had an emergency tel. number for all landlords with multiple dwellings. I would also call the police so they can verify conditions.

If the immediate situation has subsided, and you've taken steps to notify the LL, the super, Con Ed, 311 (anyone else), and if it's still an emergency, I would think you're within bounds to take steps to fix things - up to a point. But you can't have a private plumber going all over the building.

Caveat: this is just my opinion, not a legal opinion. If in doubt, I would check with a lawyer.

Also, in my view, the LL ought to thank you and pay for the plumber. However, as I'm sure you know, that might not happen and the LL might actually take you and the tenant to court.

So a) take as many photos/video as you can of the steam, the old pipes/radiator (don't toss them out as they might be needed for evidence). Make sure the plumber is willing to testify if need be, or that you can subpoena him.

b) record conversations with the LL if he calls back. Document everything.

c) the tenant should - as he's cleaning up - make a list of all damaged items and replacement value. If negligence is shown, the tenant might have a cause of action against the LL. Hopefully the tenant has renter's insurance.

d) I would consult with a tenant attorney to see if you were within bounds, what the LL can do now (to you and the tenant), and your next moves.
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby BubbaJoe123 » Fri Feb 01, 2019 12:06 pm

TenantNet wrote:Did you call Con Ed? They have a 24/7 emergency team. While they can't replace the owner's equipment, they can turn off the flow of steam (so I've been told). Of course the problem is that the last few days have been so cold, I'm sure you don't want to leave other tenants without heat.


Since the OP mentions a "boiler," this doesn't sound like a building that's getting ConEd steam service (mainly large office , but rather one that generates steam in the building for its heating system.
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby TenantNet » Fri Feb 01, 2019 12:57 pm

I don't think she meant Con Ed Steam ... the service where steam actually travels under the streets to various building that do not have their own burner/boiler system. Last I heard there was still one such steam generating plant on the East River, and the steam is a by-product of energy generation. Year ago many building, both residential and commercial had that (my building did). That's why you can see stem rising from manhole covers throughout the city (or at least Manhattan). But over the years many buildings converted to natural gas or oil.

I think she just meant steam - generically - that would have been generated on-site.
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby BubbaJoe123 » Fri Feb 01, 2019 1:38 pm

TenantNet wrote:I don't think she meant Con Ed Steam ... the service where steam actually travels under the streets to various building that do not have their own burner/boiler system. Last I heard there was still one such steam generating plant on the East River, and the steam is a by-product of energy generation. Year ago many building, both residential and commercial had that (my building did). That's why you can see stem rising from manhole covers throughout the city (or at least Manhattan). But over the years many buildings converted to natural gas or oil.

I think she just meant steam - generically - that would have been generated on-site.


I don't know if ConEd is going to shut off somebody's boiler because of a pipe leak in that building.

As for the ConEd system, there are a number of plants in Manhattan (I believe E 14th is the biggest), and it's widely used by larger office and commercial buildings for both heating and cooling. Would be surprised if this building used it, though.

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/10/nyre ... -york.html
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby TenantNet » Fri Feb 01, 2019 2:34 pm

If there's a real emergency, I think Con Ed is empowered to do what's needed. Years ago there was a fire in my building's basement. Access was locked off as it was late in the evening. The super was drunk (I mean he was lying on the floor unable to get up). We called Con Ed. Somehow they obtained access and turned off the power (it was an electrical fire) for that part of the building.

Yes, E. 14th was what I was thinking. My residential building had Con Ed steam from that plant until the LL decided to put in his own boiler (and get a MCI in the process).
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby Cazmia » Tue Feb 12, 2019 12:16 am

We let the landlord's plumbers in and they were deplorable; they opened this Tenant's closets, threw all his belongings from one side of the room, furniture included, onto his bed until his stuff reached the ceiling!

Tonight, during an argument with the owner, the tenant was told that his plumbers took video and pictures of his stuff stacked to the ceiling! The owner referred to this poor, victimized Tenant's home as a pigstye and said no one could possibly be living there, that it must be used for storage.

So, after this tenant coped with his belongings being soaked through daily with steam, until he could ring out his clothes and his paintings fell from the walls, because the drywall is Soft, the plumber (who has the same last name as the owner, mind you) gets to RANSACK this man's house, then take pictures and call him a slob?

I was watching this man's home while he was at work and let them in. They took so called pictures or video obtained without permission. Can they possibly use these to sabotage this tenant who has fought 6 years for rent stabilization?
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby TenantNet » Tue Feb 12, 2019 6:23 am

A note for the next time -- or for any tenant. NEVER let the LL or his agents take photos of the inside of your apartment without a court order. NEVER.

From your post it's unclear what the LL meant by his remarks, but it could mean he's trying to create a rationale that the tenant uses the apartment for storage only, and does not live there ... ergo a non-primary case could be made. From now on the tenant needs to keep receipts of everthing he buys locally. Not that hard. Be able to prove you actually live in the unit.
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby Cazmia » Tue Feb 12, 2019 12:03 pm

Thank you, will make sure he documents his local spending.

If they would not respect the tenant's wishes and did so anyway, I don't think anything would be admissible in court.

I think the tenant should draft a letter to the landlord notifying him that he does NOT, and has never, permitted photos or video at any time and send it certified mail.

Although it would be post-dated after the plumber's first visit, it would at least express the tenant's sentiments that he never authorized pictures to be taken. Do you think this would be good advice to give him?
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby TenantNet » Tue Feb 12, 2019 12:39 pm

The idea of saving receipts for local purchases is:
a) It shows when a person was here in town
b) If buying food, that is likely eaten at home.
I got in a habit of making sure I got a receipt for everything I bought. I keep them in a pile and once a year or so, I put them in date order and scan them.

Admissible in the court? Depends on the judge. But it has nothing to do with the tenant's wishes.

Letter to LL? Probably a waste of time.
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby 10ants » Tue Feb 12, 2019 8:26 pm

A lot of the 'emergency' plumbers are like 'emergency' locksmiths or out of network doctors -- massive rip off artists. Seriously -- these guys sometimes charge $300/hr. Unless you received explicit permission from the LL, I'd expect him to walk away from that bill, which may leave you exposed.
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby Cazmia » Fri Feb 15, 2019 2:54 pm

Another tenant had a nonpayment trial in housing court, and that tenant told us that they were showing videos of the tenant's apartment that I mentioned earlier and saying it is "not a real apartment, that he is using it for storage."

First off, what does another tenant's trial about nonpayment have to do with this tenant (who also has a trial for nonpayment, but was NOT scheduled for a court appearance this day to defend himself).

Isn't this field day they're having with this precious video they obtained a criminal violation of privacy? If anything, the footage should show the atrocious way they ransacked his home to try and make repairs!
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby TenantNet » Fri Feb 15, 2019 3:08 pm

It only matters if it's a rent regulated unit. And you're correct, it has no bearing on a non-pay. Was it just a NP proceeding or had it gone to an actual trial?

If the LL wanted to use that, they would have to serve a Golub Notice and commence a non-primary proceeding, and there is a window period when that can happen. It all depends on what was alleged in the Petition and what sort of proceeding it is.

Even though it's immaterial, it might be wise for the tenant to rebut the claim.

Or maybe I misread that. Was the tenant in the NP not the same tenant who had the steam emergency? I don't see the connection btw the two (and apparently neither do you). Do either of these tenants have a lawyer?
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby Cazmia » Fri Feb 15, 2019 8:00 pm

Yes, exactly. The tenant whose apartment was shown at court was NOT the tenant at the trial.

This was a trial for a Nonpayment petition of another tenant. That other tenant came home from his trial date telling us the landlord's threats about how he filmed the apartment and will get the city in there.

Isn't that harassment, slander and a violation of privacy? This tenant has nothing to do with the one who went to trial, so why would they send that tenant home with threats for this tenant?

I think it's all insane with a potential for a huge lawsuit.

You said it only matters if it's a rent regulated unit. What way does that change things?
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Re: Steam Emergency

Postby TenantNet » Fri Feb 15, 2019 9:38 pm

The tenant or his atty could have objected for issues of relevance, assuming they were actually in a trial. I say that because many tenants don't know the difference between a trial, a conference and pre-trial motion practice.

Was the LL trying to claim that the unit in the video was actually the apartment of the tenant who was in court?

Of course it's harassment, but the question is what can one do about it? Most things that occur in court are not seen as harassment, or maybe "legal harassment." There are often exceptions for claims made in court (don't ask me for citations). What you describe might fall in the area of defamation (libel and slander) and not really harassment. And if seen that way, the tenant might have to show how he was injured by such defamation.

All this gets real murky, and I can only react to what you've posted here. But if the tenant who is now in court feels injured, then he should speak with a lawyer that specializes in such claims (usually not a tenant atty). But be aware that to take a harassment or defamation case to its own trial might cost a lot.

Did the tenant say anything to the judge? Any objection?

For the tenant whose unit was videotaped, any claim by the landlord that it's not his primary residence, i.e., only used for storage, only has legal ramifications is the tenant is regulated -- because only regulated tenants must actually live in the unit.

If unregulated, a LL doesn't care if the tenant lives there or not. If unregulated, it only matters if there's a requirement actually written into the lease.
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