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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Are Eastwood/Roosevelt Landings Enormous Submetered Electricity Bills Fault of Careless Tenants Or Inefficient Urban America Heating Equipment?

Emergency Meeting of Roosevelt Landings Tenant Association on electricity submetering from NY Times

As reported in earlier posts concerning Urban America's electricity submetering of Roosevelt Island's Eastwood/Roosevelt Landings complex:
... the first sample submetered electric bill have been received by the Eastwood/Roosevelt Landings residents and their worst fears have been realized - monthly electric bills of up to $1000 for a 3 bedroom apartment and $500-$600 for a two bedroom apartment.

Eastwood/Roosevelt Landings resident protests Urban America Electricity Charge Increase

An emergency meeting of the Roosevelt Landings Residents Association was held on Sunday afternoon in which the tenants were urged by their representatives, including Assembly Member Micah Kellner, to stick together and collect information about their electricity bills.

Image of him speaking on Eastwood/Roosevelt Landings submetering from Micah Kellner

The 2/9 NY Times reported:
... Douglas F. Eisenberg, the chief operating officer for Urban American, which owns Roosevelt Landings, said the sample bills allowed residents to see how much electricity they were using and to make adjustments.

“I think that changing one’s habits is a difficult thing to do, and this really takes people being proactive about saving energy,” Mr. Eisenberg said. “A lot of these residents have lived in this building a long time. They haven’t been responsible for their electric bills. Now they are. I think at the end of the day, I feel pretty good that we’re doing the right thing here.”

Tenants’ bills varied widely. For three-bedroom apartments, they ranged from $79.26 to $1,050.43, and for four-bedrooms from $147.97 to $974.11. Mr. Eisenberg said the readings were accurate, and added that if tenants had concerns about faulty heaters, the management was eager to correct the problem. “I assure you that this office is pretty responsive,” he said....
And a reader of this post added:
... I am sorry, but this really looks like this is a matter of attitude and habit adjustment. Time to wear those sweaters and sweat pants at home now. Like pretty much everybody else in this country.
The National Review's Planet Gore also comments on Eastwood's submetering situation:
...Here’s an idea. Since these Roosevelt Island renters with the high bills seem to enjoy a terrarium like existence, like President Obama, maybe we should submeter the White House so the Orchid-in-Chief knows how much his tropical office temperature actually costs the U.S. taxpayer?
Asked to comment on the statement by Urban America blaming the tenants for the enormous electric bills Assmebly Member Kellner states:
... I am fairly offended by these remarks, as I am sure Eastwood tenants are. If I ran every appliance in my apartment 24-hours a day for a month, I doubt I could match most of the electric bills that Eastwood residents are facing. Electric baseboard heating is simply the most inefficient system you can have in a building like this. And what’s worse is that Douglas Eisenberg knows this. His company has been paying this electric bill since they bought the building, and now they don’t want to do that anymore. Blaming the tenants and accusing them of being wasteful is a low-ball move and it’s not fooling anyone.

I have only seen two bills so far, out of hundreds, where the rent reduction covers what was approved by the PSC, and most tenants are many hundreds of dollars away from that mark. If you are an Eastwood tenant and you have not yet faxed me a copy of your sample bill, please do so. My fax number is 917-432-2983... (read full text here)

State Senator Jose Serrano's Chief of Staff was present at Sunday's meeting and forwards the following message on behalf of Senator Serrano:

I will not stand for massive rent increases in the guise of environmental conservation. Assemblyman Kellner and the resident association have done a wonderful job as it concerns research and data collection, and this is a strategy I will follow at impacted buildings in other parts of my Senate District. Moreover, I spoke today with the Public Service Commission, and expressed by phone my concern with Eastwood and the other building applications in the Urban American portfolio.

The Roosevelt Landings Residents Association adds the following:
To the untrained eye, it is difficult to see or understand how a building, particularly one that came under the watchful eye of DHCR for so many years, could fall into such a state of disrepair that hot air escapes like water through a sieve. I believe Mr. Fernandez (the NY Times reporter) was not adamant enough about the building's problems which are being foisted onto the backs of the tenants. Without a comprehensive engineering report, which has not been conducted, he had little documentation with which to arrive at a clearer understanding of the construction flaws and disrepair that creates our heating problems.

The tenants of Eastwood are all for "greening" the building and hope that conservation experts will weigh in on the wasteful practices of the landlord. In the meantime, expecting the tenants to shoulder Mr. Eisenberg's failure is unjust and will drive families from their homes!

In practicality, an overage of $40 is spending that could be improved upon by a tenant. An overage of $700 signals wasteful, disrepair on the part of the landlord.
And a reader comments on how to discover if the enormous electricity charges are due to tenant overuse or faulty equipment:
This is something that can easily be disclosed by Q-Logic, as all of the info is in their server. Why doesn't Q-Logic or UA reveal the amts, tabulated per apt type (1 BR, 2 BR & so forth)? Will the amts, if they are unaffordable for the average renter, indisputably support Kellner's contention that the bldg is impossible to efficiently heat or cool unless the landlord invests additional millions of dollars in upgrades? Is that why UA is not revealing this info?
Below is a letter sent by Assembly Member Kellner, Congresswoman Maloney, Senator Serrano, Council Member Lappin and Manhattan Borough President Stringer to the NY State Public Service Commission petitioning for a re-hearing of Urban America's:
application #08-E-0838 by North Town Roosevelt, LLC to submeter electricity for 510-580 Main Street (‘Roosevelt Landings,’ formerly known as ‘Eastwood’) on Roosevelt Island.
The letter to the Public Service Commission describes Urban America's failure to make basic energy efficient improvements as follows.
The following conditions exist at Eastwood:

• Electric, baseboard heating is used and units are approximately 33 years-old and not Energy Star rated;
• Building walls are poorly insulated;
• Many heaters can not be regulated, but rather can only be turned to the on or off position;
• Very few thermostats work and do not include temperature readings, but rather indicate ambiguous settings (ex. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5);
• Tenant-conducted survey indicates that over half of tenants have at least one broken or ineffective heating unit;
• No thermometers exist in any of the units;
• Large senior and disabled population cannot reach thermo-controls due to placement at ground-level, with no accommodation provided;
• Home appliances are typically very old and are not Energy Star rated;
• North Town Roosevelt, LLC did replace windows in most units for better insulation, but failed to order covers for air conditioning unit sleeves to keep out the winter draft, instead cardboard was installed, leaving tenants exposed to the elements;
• Limiters have been installed in windows, instead of the more appropriate child guards, which will prevent tenants from opening their windows during the warmer months as an alternative to air conditioning; and
• Hallways and other common areas are unheated resulting in heat leakage from residential units into hallways.

Petition for Rehearing of Eastwood Sub Metering

Gothamist has more on Roosevelt Island Eastwood tenants getting zapped with higher electricity bills including comments like this from #14:
... I live on Roosevelt Island but in a different complex. I have a friend, however, who lives in one of these buildings.

1) The management of her building refuses to heat the hallways. My friend spends most of the time freezing even with the heat turned up full blast because all of her heat leaks into the hallway. (Note the hallway circles the outside of the building and is the layer adjacent to the outdoors.) This is also due to the horrible insulation of all the apartments that the management won't fix.

2) The management has told her that she will be paying the standard Con Ed rate moving forward for her electricity. However, we also pay electricity at our complex and, on our bill, the Con Ed rate is much less than the rate her management company has quoted. They aren't giving out the contact information for Con Ed or the meter readings so there is no way for the tenants to confirm that they are being given a fair rate.

3) Half of this building is rent controlled and half is listed at market rate. The management company has been accused multiple times of pulling stunts like overcharging for electricity and refusing to make repairs in order to drive out all the rent-controlled tenants so they can flip the remaining apartments to market rate. (I'm sure everyone is familiar with similar stories in this city.) In the past few months, I have heard stories about multiple fires in the buildings, appliances installed incorrectly and not fixed for months, maintenance requests being ignored and when questioned, the management company lying about repair work, shutting down all the laundry rooms that serve 3000 tenants for a week, etc.

Fortunately, a lot of the tenants are trying to organize and get their rights acknowledged in this situation. I wouldn't be surprised to see an update about the company being taken to court
As an aside, Eastwood/Roosevelt Landings was the Dark Water building.

UPDATE - 6:30 PM - City Council Member Jessica Lappin sends the following response:
The bills that Eastwood tenants received last week are outrageous, unreasonable, and unfair. There is simply no way that a single apartment should be generating an electricity bill over $1000. The owner stopped heating the hallways a while ago and I guess they want tenants to stop heating their apartments as well. I will be working with Assemblyman Kellner and all of the other elected officials for the Island to try to reverse this policy and protect the Eastwood tenants.


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