Meanwhile, this building on Elmhurst Avenue in Queens had more complaints than any other in the city. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
This story was originally published on October 4, 2019 by THE CITY.

As temperatures begin to drop, residents of 1425 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in The Bronx say they’re not looking forward to winter.

They’re dreading the specter of cold showers and heat that shuts off on the most frigid days.

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Peter Henry, a 57-year-old tenant of the Highbridge building, has to call 311 “all the time,” he told THE CITY.

He’s not alone: From September of 2018 to this past August, more than 221,000 heat and hot water complaints at roughly 32,000 non-public housing addresses were reported to 311.

And more than a third of the calls came from The Bronx, according to a new report by Localize.city, a home-search website that crunches housing data.

Further analysis by THE CITY showed that The Bronx logged the most frequent gripes about heat and hot water — a rate of 14.04 complaints per 100 households from October 2018 to May 2019, the months covering what’s known as the “heat season.”

Meanwhile, buildings in the borough also recorded the highest rate of actual heat and water-related violations during the same period, according to data from the Department of Housing and Preservation Development.

“Owners must provide adequate heat and hot water as is required by law during heat season,” said HPD Commissioner Louise Carroll said in an announcement earlier this week. “HPD will do everything within its power to hold owners accountable and ensure renters live in safe and habitable homes year-round.”

HPD investigates 311 complaints related to housing issues, which can be lodged by phone, online or through an app.

According to the Localize analysis, the more a household pays in rent, the less likely the chance of heat-related issues: One in five listings for studios ranging from $2,400 to $4,000 are located in a building with reported heating complaints. In the $1,400 and $1,600 price range, half of those studios are in buildings at risk of heat and hot water issues.

‘It’s Going to be Tough’

Henry’s building, his home for seven years, ranked in the top 10 in the city for heat and hot water-related complaints to 311, according to the new analysis.

He and his wife have found it difficult to report problems to their landlord, Chestnut Holdings, he said, and issues typically take a while to fix. The pair say they’ve been without cooking gas for three months.

“It’s going to be tough this year because we have a 3-month-old grandson,” Henry, who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said as he stood in the kitchen of his first-floor apartment.

A representative for Chestnut Holdings couldn’t be reached for comment.

Nir Gonen, a data scientist with Localize, noted heat and hot water outages mark the “single-most frequent” housing complaint made to 311.

“Not having heat or hot water is not only a hardship, but also illegal,” Gonen said. “We’re seeing this all across the city.”

Brooklyn came in second in heat and hot water complaints over the past year — 67,554 — with Crown Heights counting the most addresses with issues, according to the Localize analysis.

Sualin Suazo said her Elmhurst building was often without heat during the coldest days of winter.

Sualin Suazo said her Elmhurst building was often without heat during the coldest days of winter. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Although Queens accounted for 13% of the city’s of 311 complaints, a six-story apartment building in Elmhurst with more than 200 units, reported the greatest number of heating issues citywide.

Nearly 3,200 heat-related complaints came from residents at 89-21 Elmhurst Ave. — more than the total number of heat and hot water 311 complaints from all of Staten Island, according to Localize.

Several residents of the Elmhurst building said winter brings heat and water problems.

“On the coldest day, they won’t have heat. When it’s not cold, they’ll have it,” said Sualin Suazo, 29, adding she’s lived in the building nearly all of her life. “You come home from work and you’re like, ‘OK, no hot water.’ They won’t tell you in advance.”

Oscar Zargoza, the superintendent, said that while he couldn’t confirm that the building has heat and hot water every day, he dismissed the bulk of complaints as disingenuous.

“Most of the complaints are from one person,” Zargoza said. “They have heat, they have everything.”

There are not currently any open heat-related complaints at 89-21 Elmhurst Ave. The building’s owners didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Have you had repeated problems getting your heat and hot water working? We’d like to hear from you. Email tips@thecity.nyc or call, text, Signal, WhatsApp: 718-866-8674.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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