UPDATED, August 5, 3:27 p.m.: Ice cream, it turns out, doesn’t heal all wounds.
Just ask the tenants of 325 East 12th Street, who gathered on Thursday to protest an ice cream social held by their landlord, Raphael Toledano’s Brookhill Properties. Ice cream may seem like an innocuous olive branch, but for these tenants it dripped with disrespect. According to tenants, they’ve gone without gas service in the building since May 18, and free ice cream is not exactly the remedy they were expecting.
“It’s an abomination to the human spirit, and you can’t fix it with Ben & Jerry’s,” said SaMi Chester, a tenant organizer with the Cooper Square Committee.
Roughly a dozen protestors surrounded a lone Ben & Jerry’s truck parked on East 5th Street between Second and Third Avenues. The truck was initially supposed to be parked outside the 12th Street building but the location was switched last minute (a decision, protestors mused, came after Toledano learned of the planned picket). Confused passerby were offered free ice cream while the protestors shouted variations of “Ice cream, you scream we all scream for cooking gas!” The truck, which had been parked for a few hours before the protests, drove away after a few minutes of the shouting.
A spokesperson for Brookhill said on Friday that the gas shutdown is affecting buildings citywide.
“This problem needs to be addressed by Con Edison and city officials,” he said. “Responsible landlords such as Brookhill have been diligently working with both Con Ed and the city to remedy these issues as quickly as possible.”
A representative for Con Ed said that the shutdown was prompted by an internal gas leak at the 12th Street building and that the company can’t restore service until Toledano makes necessary repairs.
One resident of the 12th Street building, Liz Haak, 71, said that while she has an electric stove, she’s seen other tenants unable to cook since the gas was shut off nearly two months ago. She said a contractor had made appointments with residents to return gas to their homes but had inexplicably canceled. Since then, Haak said, the landlord has done “diddly squat” and instead offered up “useless ice cream” to people who can’t cook dinner in their homes.
Toledano, a broker turned investor, bought the 12th Street building as part of a 17-building portfolio in September. The 26-year-old has rapidly built up his multifamily portfolio, especially in the East Village. In the past year, he purchased 28 buildings in two separate portfolios from the Tabak family for a total of $140 million — one of which was 325 East 12th Street. His rise has been a controversial one, riddled with disputes with tenants and even a high-profile legal dispute with his uncle, Aaron Jungreis. Industry players also say Toledano is overleveraged and pushes up the rents to pay off a high mortgage, held by Josh Zegen’s Madison Realty Capital.
In May, Toledano agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle a tenant lawsuit that alleged that he harassed rent-regulated residents to force them out of 444 East 13th Street. That same month, city officials said they would test 20 of his buildings for lead dust after the substance was reportedly found in three of his other buildings.