Tenants Sue Landlord, Fight for Gas Restoration and Repairs

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After almost 2 months that three Second Avenue buildings collapsed due to a gas explosion, the tenants across at 128 Second Avenue are still struggling. They are still living without gas, having their hot water turned on recently. Stage restaurant, one of the tenants has closed its operations since March 29 this year, just 3 days following the explosion, and is now in the middle of a legal battle against Icon Realty Management, the building’s landlord.

According to previous sources, the restaurant was accused of gas line tampering and was issued an eviction notice on April 13. The building’s gas was initially turned off on March 29, following a report by another tenant who allegedly smelled gas after the disaster across the street.

Roman Diakun, the restaurant owner said he was informed that his restaurant had a separate gas line and could hire a licensed plumber to check it and have it restored. After the inspection, the plumbers said there was a leak, disconnecting the pipes was necessary in order to find it. Diakun was fined due to the Department of Buildings’ stop-work order.

Eventually, Diakun paid the fine. He hired a master plumber for necessary permits in an effort to re-open the restaurant. However, he was denied by the landlord for a work permit, instead, he was asked to evict the place towards the end of April. Diakun sued Icon, while his son, Andrew began a fundraising campaign for the restaurant’s legal fees, amounting to $10,000.

Stage was not alone, but the entire building does not have gas yet. Last week, hot water was restored, although some tenants said the water was only warm in some apartments. Other residential tenants have their individual issues with ongoing battles with the landlord as well.

Tenants have now filed an “action for repairs and services” against Icon. Through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), tenants have accused the landlord of trying to push out rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants through broken fire escapes, inconsistent heat, lack of fire alarms and further violations.

The housing advocacy y group Cooper Square Committee (CSC), has been involved with the ongoing issues of the tenants significantly. CSC tenant counselor Yonatan Tadele said the landlord was difficult to get to the table for discussions up until the explosion occurred.

On April 14, Icon and the tenants signed a provision in court, addressing all issues under the Housing Preservation complaint. The landlord has agreed to resolve the issues, including the building’s gas restoration. According to Tadele, the landlord will also address individual tenant repairs.

Tadele added that Icon had between 15 and 20 violations, before the collapse of the three Second Avenue tenements; however, more issues emerged after the tragedy. There were 89 violations during the court hearing, but now snowballed to 107.

Tadele couldn’t believe of such enormous violations that grew in a short period, believing that most of these violations were repeats of previous ones, which were unresolved within the right time frame.

Based on the most recent stipulation, the landlord has until May-end to restore the building’s gas. This week, tenants will meet and discuss more pending legal issues, plus the recent court resolution.

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Katrina Bell is an investigative journalist and is a correspondent for European Union. She is based in Zurich in Switzerland and her field of work include covering human rights violations which take place in the various countries in and outside Europe. She also reports about the political situation in European Union. She has worked with some reputed companies in Europe and is currently contributing to USA News as a freelance journalist. As someone who has a Masters’ degree in Human Rights she also delivers lectures on Intercultural Management to students of Human Rights. She is also an authority on the Arab world politics and their diversity.

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