NYCFilter -- Building Gas Shut Off
September 19, 2018 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Hi All! A month ago the cooking gas in my building was shut off by ConEd. I was hoping that service would be restored quickly, but ConEd says that the landlord has to do something, and the landlord says that making the fixes is too expensive, so they're just going to supply everyone in the building with a hot plate and call it a day. That's not acceptable to me, and I want to figure out what to do – somewhere between asking for rent abatements / repairs vs. just moving out.

After looking around online I've found that this is apparently a pretty common occurrence -- in fact, I just bought a hot plate from someone on craigslist who was just in the same situation, and for whom the repairs took a year(!).

My questions:

1. Has this happened to anyone?
2. What can be done? Rent abatement? Push for an upgrade to an electric stove?
3. The lease is up in November. While I like the apartment a lot, I also don't want to use a hot plate for an entire year. Should I just move out? Caveat: the apartment is rent-controlled, which seems like a big plus.

I've already called 311 and filed a complaint, but I don't know if that'll make a difference.
posted by =d.b= to Law & Government (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, as a brief addendum: the landlord sent a paper around talking about the gas shutoff and saying that it "wasn't their fault" and that they would provide tenants with a single hot plate. They want tenants to sign and return this agreement, but I see no reason to do this. If I sign this, will I be screwing myself over?
posted by =d.b= at 8:26 AM on September 19, 2018

Oh, it’s rent controlled? Get a lawyer. Your landlord might end up paying you damages.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:29 AM on September 19, 2018 [14 favorites]

I would contact one of the groups in NYC that gives advice to tenants. There's no law in NYS or NYC (to my knowledge) which states that a tenant must be supplied with a cooking stove, however, if you are provided one and it breaks or is otherwise unusable, you must be supplied with a new stove or an equivalent. I think this is going to come down to whether or not a hot place is, legally speaking, equivalent to a stove.

I suspect, but do not know for certain, that you may be out of luck, but that doesn't mean you can't make a stink about it.

I would not sign anything (outside of a lease) the landlord gives you. In fact, if the document breaks the law, it's unenforceable.

Finally--are you sure you're rent controlled? Or are you rent stabilized? That's a pretty significant difference.
posted by Automocar at 8:29 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I wonder if you bought that hot plate from someone in my building!

We just got gas back in mid June 2018 after it got shut off in May 2017. Ouch. We ended up getting $100 off per month on rent and $50 back on a purchase of a hot plate (we went toaster oven instead). They also replaced the gas driers in the basement with electric, and made them free until gas came back. This didn't really cover our extra expenses, but as we're already well below market and our landlord hasn't raised our rent for the past two years (crossing our fingers for 3 since they just closed our subway station until December, about a week after we got gas back! Ugh), we made do.

Oh! And if your renter's insurance is anything like ours, you can submit receipts etc and prove that you're spending more than normal by X amount and try to claim that, but IIRC they only covered up to a month or a max of $200 or something.
posted by Grither at 8:32 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Check this out:
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:32 AM on September 19, 2018

Do you have a regular gas stove - oven, 4 burners? A single hot plate is not a replacement. Tenants' Rights group.
posted by theora55 at 8:36 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

oh absolutely do not sign that piece of shit "agreement" the landlord wants you to sign. god, i wouldn't even acknowledge receiving it.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:36 AM on September 19, 2018 [10 favorites]

The folks at Just Fix can either help you or point you in the direction of folks who can.
posted by bilabial at 8:42 AM on September 19, 2018

Don't sign that agreement; that's your opportunity to negotiate. You may want ask an atty or tenant advisor how they recommend you proceed.

Before you do this, though, really get clear in your own mind on your idea of an acceptable outcome. Things to consider: Is cooking important to you? Do you want to rent from a cheap landlord in, evidently, a poorly maintained building, even if they give you an electric stove? What level of rebate is worth it? How painful would moving be?

I live in a rent stabilized absolute dump in Bk, and make many trade-offs for the cost and location. People outside NYC might not quite get how just shady NYC landlords are willing to be, and may underestimate the hassle of getting any resolution even if recourse is technically available (I didn't grasp it before I moved here.)
posted by kapers at 8:45 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ah, clarification: the apartment is rent stabilized, not rent controlled. Sorry for the confusion!
posted by =d.b= at 8:59 AM on September 19, 2018

ConEd has amped up their restrictions on restoring gas since those deadly explosions a couple years ago, the process is much more onerous now, so it doesn't necessarily mean the landlord is cheap or it's a poorly maintained building.

If you do decide to stay, be prepared for at least a year with no cooking gas. Depends on the size of the building and wait times for ConEd to show up.

There are things that can be done to mitigate/reduce that time, but they cost money, like preemptively replacing all the valves to the stoves in all the apartments (done when they come in to close them as required for the testing, which means 15 more minutes in each apartment before the test). The valves are a common point of failure and having them replaced before the pressure tests means less likelihood of a fail and then having to get into all the apartments again to replace them and then scheduling/waiting for another test.

If you do decide to stick it out, remember that you can microwave so many things. It's not ideal, but it works. I also got a sous-vide because I'd wanted one for a while and thought no gas was a good excuse, but that ended up not being as useful since a lot of recipes for that require finishing on a stove/oven. (Now that I have gas back, I am excited to be getting more use out of the sous-vide!)

Good luck!
posted by Grither at 9:12 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Upon re-reading the question:

Wow, the landlord isn't going to fix it at all!? Yeah, lawyer up. Or get the hell out.
posted by Grither at 9:18 AM on September 19, 2018

Don't sign anything. (Stabilized vs. controlled shouldn't make a difference for these purposes.)

I do want to be fair--Con Ed has to inspect when there is a gas problem and that can literally take months, so the duration of any outage may genuinely not be the landlord's fault. We had this problem in a freaking brand new condo. Even calling my city council rep didn't help. That doesn't mean he isn't required to mitigate, though.

There's no law in NYS or NYC (to my knowledge) which states that a tenant must be supplied with a cooking stove, however, if you are provided one and it breaks or is otherwise unusable, you must be supplied with a new stove or an equivalent. I think this is going to come down to whether or not a hot place is, legally speaking, equivalent to a stove.

In rent-stabilized apartments (unlike market-rate), the landlord cannot legally reduce services provided at the time of the initial lease. I don't understand whether the landlord is planning on eventually restoring service or if this is a permanent situation. If the former, it will not be worth taking him to court for a somewhat ambiguous case. Ask for a modest rent abatement. If the latter, it might well be--permanently replacing a stove with a single hot plate is unlikely (on first glance) to be considered the same level of service. Hang onto your rent-stabilized apartment, it is worth its weight in gold.

(BTW, all you people who think it's "harmless" to get AirBnBs in NYC or that you're "supporting artists" or some such disingenuous nonsense, landlords run tenants out of rent-stabilized apartments they have every right to stay in with tactics like this precisely so that they can rent them out on AirBnB. So if your conscience and your intellect really struggle with identifying New Yorkers you don't actually know as people worthy of your not screwing over, perhaps you might think of OP next time.)
posted by praemunire at 9:30 AM on September 19, 2018 [28 favorites]

Let's say you wanted to bake a turkey or tofurkey for Thanksgiving. Or bread. Or a cake. Or roast some brussels sprouts, or make creme brulee, or whatever. Hot plate doesn't work for that at all. Toaster oven doesn't work for most of that, unless you get a weirdly huge one, and who even has room for that?

Maybe an electric oven?

Maybe talk to your co-tenants. You'll feel more powerful if you know you're not the only one who's upset about this. Anybody who would spend the holidays in their apartment may feel extra feelings about this because of the baking/roasting issue.
posted by amtho at 9:48 AM on September 19, 2018

If the tenant starts with a working cook stove upon move in and uses the cook stove as tenant then is there not an agreed contract to have a working cook stove much like having a front door or a sink and can such a contract be made void just because one party [owner] to that agreement changes their mind? Seems like a simple issue of contract law, albeit across other tenants as well. Jus' askin'.
posted by Freedomboy at 9:51 AM on September 19, 2018

A lawyer can explain what the law is, and whether there are common law remedies available, i.e. loss of use, violation of the warranty of habitability, etc. It is possible that if the landlord provides something like a stove, they must maintain it or pay the value of the loss of that use.

Information about finding a lawyer is available from the MeFi Wiki Get a lawyer page, including links to free and low-cost resources. It is possible that free legal services may be available for your legal issue, at least for a consultation.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:57 AM on September 19, 2018

A propane tank inside your apartment is almost certainly against codes and regs and maybe laws, and is more dangerous than ConEd gas mains or normal propane tanks outside, and is not recommended. And: it’s super common in other countries, so if you’re a buyer beware kind of person... well, buyer beware. A tank and hose connections plus cooking burners can be obtained cheaply and easily. A propane oven is probably harder, but electric toaster ovens are easy and effective.
posted by joaofava at 10:06 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seems like a simple issue of contract law, albeit across other tenants as well. Jus' askin'.

Laws governing real property are mostly local and can be intensely idiosyncratic. What I am saying about the provision of services in rent-stabilized apartments in NYC is absolutely true (though I'm not the lawyer of anyone in this thread and I am not giving legal advice!), but I wouldn't dream of assuming that I would know the rule for, say, San Francisco. (That's why Mefi advice to people renting in big cities can sometimes be a bit...unfortunate, because a bunch of homeowners in other places don't even know what they don't know.)
posted by praemunire at 10:10 AM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Note that installing an electric stove might require electrical work to install a 220-V outlet if one doesn't already exist, so the landlord may not be willing to do this if they're viewing this as a temporary situation or if they're cheaping out.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:13 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Call the Metropolitan Council on Housing. They have a free tenant's advice line that's open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 1:30 to 5.
posted by siouxsiesmith at 10:39 AM on September 19, 2018

Even if the landlord is interested in restoring gas, it might be awhile. It's very hard to predict. My coworker, who lives on the UWS, didn't have gas for *a year*, even though someone was actively trying to get it turned back on (the building had non-dangerous boiler issues, I believe, but they couldn't get ConEd to inspect/approve the boiler after it was repaired). The leasing tenants were given rent abatement.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:42 AM on September 19, 2018

this is only barely an answer to your question, but if you arent going to have a working stove/oven for a while, you might consider purchasing an Instant Pot to go along with your hot plate. A fellow NYC-dwelling friend lived in a coop that had no gas for a while and managed to do a decent amount of cooking at home with only an IP.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:29 AM on September 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

Definitely contact Metropolitan Council on Housing, but personally, I would push for an electric stove. In the long run, buildings will need to shift away from gas for environmental reasons, anyway. And I'm guessing it's safer.
posted by pinochiette at 12:00 PM on September 19, 2018

Long shot, since I assume you'd have mentioned it, but your building doesn't happen to be heated by a gas furnace, does it? If this fault means that you will be without heat this winter, then your case becomes much, much stronger.
posted by caek at 2:07 PM on September 19, 2018

Lack of cooking gas is as much about discrimination against income diversity — and make no mistake, rent stabilization is the only thing keeping what little class diversity we have in Manhattan these days — as it is about safety, convenience and day-to-day cooking. I can't prove, but am beginning to suspect, the lack of cooking gas several are citing here is a new landlord tactic to get rent stabilized tenants out. There are lawyers in NYC who specialize in advising landlords on how to harass stabilized tenants and, from what I'm hearing, this sounds like another "tactic" in the "war."

First, here is NYC's Housing Maintenance Code as provided by the City itself. Here is the Tenantnet version, which is annotated. Second, I'm wondering if, by chance, you live in a Steve Croman building. Steve Croman, the "Bernie Madoff of Landlords" was recently "immortalized" in a highly simplified, not-quite-up-to-date episode of "American Greed," which aired this week. He also happens to be the only NYC landlord to have ever gone to jail, and he owns some 200 buildings in NYC, including 141 Ridge Street in the Lower East Side, which just sued him for contempt of court because they've been without cooking gas for nearly a year. There are countless anti-Crowman tenant groups out there because jail barely put a dent in him.

Anyway, at the very least, you should know the law, and have some idea of the lengths landlords will go to to harass tenants in NYC. This Gizmodo article details an algorithm the Commission on Human Rights (who consider tenant harassment a key form of income discrimination) and NYC's Tenant Harassment Prevention Workforce have been working with to better pinpoint who is harassing tenants and why.

If I were you, I would work with all the other stabilized renters in your building to register a formal complaint about this. It might be easiest to start at Just Fix NYC, referenced above. But if you'd like to talk to someone at 141 who just sued Croman for this very reason, memail me. I'd be happy to put you in touch.
posted by Violet Blue at 2:10 PM on September 19, 2018 [9 favorites]

First, here is NYC's Housing Maintenance Code as provided by the City itself.

There's no requirement in the code that the landlord provide a stove of any kind. Just electricity or gas for cooking, and a sink (plus some lighting and ventilation requirements not relevant here). The reason the landlord would be required to provide a stove here is that there was a stove when the lease started, and the apartment is rent-stabilized.

There is (obviously) a pretty decent chance your landlord is harassing you--considerably more if the hot plate is meant to be permanent! But I don't know that I'd go to Tenant Harassment shortly after the gas got shut off. As I said, this happens a lot and it's genuinely not something the landlord has control over once the gas is off. If, on the other hand, that agreement actually says that the downgrade is permanent, it's much more worth consulting them.
posted by praemunire at 2:29 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is the building heated with gas? You might want to figure this out before you take any further steps. If it is then I would think that the landlord is gonna have to do something within the next couple of months.

It may really be a ploy to get tenants out.
posted by mareli at 2:44 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I can't say whether the landlord is trying to force tenants out, but I know someone in a fancy co-op in SoHo who was without gas for over a year. As others have pointed out, this is not unheard of. But definitely contact the Metropolitan Council on Housing to find out what your rights are.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:52 PM on September 19, 2018

Re the hot plate temporary solution. I want to point out that all hot plates are not created equal. I spent several years without a functioning stove while living on a boat. Picked up a two burner hot plate secondhand and it worked well enough. I'm not much of a cook though. A couple years on, some friends who had been remodelling their kitchen passed on the hot plate they'd used during the refit, newer model, pristine condition yet it took twice as long to boil water for tea. Thinking of my electric bill, I returned it. So that's another thing to consider, the impact on your electric bill. I was looking into induction burners (and new cooking pots and pans) when I moved on from that living situation.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:07 AM on September 20, 2018

Rent stabilized, I was out for 9 months a couple of years ago. We were without hot water the first month too and got nearly half off, when it was cooking gas only we gout about one third rent abatement. As someone who doesn't cook, it was worth it. I eventually got a crock pot with some of the savings. It took ages to fix and then ConEd to re-inspect. I suspect this is going to be a larger issue in older buildings due to the ConEd crack downs, so be prepared for the fact that it could well happen again if you move
posted by TravellingCari at 7:23 AM on September 20, 2018

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