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charging for heat in a converted loft plus zoning

Posted by al on April 25, 2001 at 13:08:31:

i live in a commercial space that the landlord claims is "very close" to being zoned residential. which would be good for the people living here since there are 12 apartments, each with 2 to 4 people in them. I have two questions about my situation.

first, the heat. we were paying $1900 a month for a 1000 sqft loft in greenpoint. we have been here a year (as of may 1) and our rent was increased to $1995, which is not bad and I am not complaining about that. they told us we would have to pay for heat (which is oil, but we have an electric blower) and implied when we signed the lease that this would be under 100 dollars a month. Our first month was May. They charged us for heat until june or july. the heat was costing us around 150 a month, sometimes more. they said it didn't matter whether we used the heat, we had to pay for the oil as long as the boiler was on. Now, each apartment here has it's own electric water heater (everything is electric) and I don't know who pays for that electricity (or the electricity for the blower). But since no one was actually using the heat during the warm months, some intelligent and resourceful tenant got them to turn off the boiler, but only after getting agreement from each tenant that they wouldn't be upset about this.

we had our blower moved over the summer and had to reconnect the electric connection, which we did in maybe september. we never got heat. throughout october and november we got only cold air from the blower. we hadn't been charged for oil (which, on previous bills had occurred at the beginning of the month) so we thought we weren't supposed to be getting any heat. but then it got really really cold and we called them and they said the boiler was on. the super (i'm not sure if that is his title, he does not seem to know how to fix anything or anything, he is just the person we are supposed to call when we have problems) was very unprompt in getting back to us and whenever he would come to the apartment, he would look at the heater and say, "i'll get someone to look at this" and then say, "it's not so cold in here". then he would go away for another 4 days, during which we would call him and he wouldn't call us back. finally, after 3 weeks, he brought an electrician and they fixed the problem. this was november 31. the problem had been that the sensor that tells the blower when to go on was set up backwards, so it would go on when the pipes were cold instead of hot. this was not our mistake and no one says it is. they then charged us for heat for october and november.

we felt that we shouldn't have to pay for heat becuase we didn' thave any and they were slow in trying to get us some. we wrote a letter and gave it to them with the rent check explaining why we werne't paying. the super came to our apartment and said he destroyed the letter becuase he thought it was unduly mean to him. he said we shouldn't have to pay the heat (after much debate) and that he would take care of it. of course he didn't and they charged us again for it on our next bill. so we payed for rent and the december heat and sent another letter. we also called them, but the person that got our message was the super. they never directly responded to our assertion that we didn't have to pay the heat, they just kept putting the charges on our bill. the super explained that we had to pay the heat becuase there was heat, the pipes were hot. apparently it doesn't matter whether we actually get heat. Eventually, since we really wanted to be able to stay here another year, we just paid it.

now we keep getting charged for the same months repeatedly. december twice and january twice. we called to ask them about it, since we havne't been charged for feb, march or april yet. I got a call today and they said that we are charged twice because they were charged twice because the winter was so cold. they didn't put both charges together for the tenant's sake, since each heat charge is about 150, so apparently for a few months we were paying 300 dollars in heat bills, and they didn't want anyone to be totally screwed by that charge.

i know we have to pay heat because the building is commercial. but if they are trying to get it rezoned, what will they do when it is residential? don't residential landlords have to include heat in the rent? shouldn't we have not had to pay anything for june or july when they left the boiler on for no reason?

also, the first floor here is a furniture factory. will that make it impossible to zone the building for residential? also, according to the tenant who got them to shut the heat off last summer, they were taking the total oil cost and dividing it by the number of units, despite the different sizes of the units (requiring different amounts of heat) and the fact that the entire first floor is just the one unit.

i guess I'm just asking what the heat laws are, more specifically than just that it must be available from october to may. what counts as available? are they allowed to charge us if they know we are residents and not using the space commercially? are they allowed to charge us for heat in the summer when we aren't using it and weren't told it would be on and didn't ask for it to be? not to mention that they told us that the blower only goes on when the pipes are hot, but the pipes only get hot when it is below a certain temperature outside. how can they say there was any reason to have the boiler on in june and july?

we also pay for garbage pick up because it is commercial, but we only pay 20 dollars a month for that.

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