Ft. Greene tenants protest gas shutoff

By Adam Pincus | August 05, 2008 05:32PM

Five days after the gas was cut, apparently without warning, to a Dermot Company-owned building in Fort Greene, tenants alleged that the shut-off was part of an overall scheme by the landlord to replace them with higher-paying residents.

Joe Pressley, a resident of 25 Lafayette Avenue since 1992, said that the elevator has not been working for two weeks and that residents have been offered payments to leave the building.

“This is a rent-stabilized building and they want to get tenants out to get it to market value,” said Pressley, a member of the tenants’ organization at the building.

Gas to the six-story building is supplied by National Grid, which purchased energy company Keyspan last year.

The service was cut on July 31. Today the landlord and gas company were trying to restore service to tenants, which necessitates entry into every apartment.

David Sorise, Dermot’s vice president of operations, said it did not pay the June bill because it arrived for the first time using the name National Grid instead of Keyspan and was not processed properly. That bill for $720 was not paid, and with no warning the gas to the entire building was shut off, he said.

He denied it was part of an effort to make life difficult for tenants in the building.

“That is absolutely not true,” he said. “It was an administrative accounting error that didn’t get taken care of in a timely fashion.”

Karen Young, a spokeswoman for the utility, said the company would not comment on a specific account, but said that customers received notices months in advance about the name change. The first bills using the new name were sent in May.

National Grid’s policy on notification of a service interruption includes placing a notice on the front door of the building, in addition to calls and letters to the customer, Young said. However, several tenants said they did not see any notice on the building.

The Dermot Company pays the gas bill to supply hot water, heat the building’s the boiler and provide gas for the use of stoves in each of the building’s 34 units.

Sorise said the company paid the balance due on July 31. The company has provided hot water with a mobile heater since Friday, he said.

Tenants planned to meet tonight at the building to discuss the issue. Council Member Letitia James, a Democrat who represents the neighborhood, planned to attend.

Dermot, which owns nearby One Hanson Place, paid $7 million in December for 25 Lafayette Avenue, which is across the street from the Brooklyn Academy of Music and houses Viennese restaurant Thomas Beisl.