No one knows this better than Mauricio Rico. Last October, Rico, a college student who works as a part-time security guard, thought he found a great new one-bedroom in Maspeth, Queens. It had beautiful tile floors, a new kitchen and a fairly cheap $550-a-month rent.
The only problem, he soon discovered, was what he found tucked inside of the bedroom walk-in closet: three gas-fueled boilers and three hot water heaters–an illegal heating system that served the whole building. They weren’t just unsightly: Boilers emit carbon monoxide, a lethal odorless gas.
Despite the obvious danger–and a $1,650 finder’s fee demanded by his real estate agent–Rico decided to stay. He says the landlord, a plumber named Joe Lomonoco, told him not to worry about the 12-foot-wide maze of pipes, tanks and bolts even though it looked like a mad scientist’s moonshine distillery. Attempts to contact Lomonoco for this story were unsuccessful.
When workers from Brooklyn Union came to turn on Rico’s gas line, they failed to shut the system down, although the city prohibits heating systems from being placed in bedrooms. Instead, they cited Lomonoco for a flaw in a safety device that turns off all the gas if one of the boilers springs a leak. The landlord hasn’t fixed the problem yet, Rico says.
Throughout the winter, the carbon monoxide detector would sound several times a week, Rico says. In response, he would simply open windows until the beeping stopped.
He attributed his frequent headaches, nausea and dizziness to the flu.
In April, Rico decided to take action when he read about two children in Brooklyn who died from carbon monoxide inhalation. He called Brooklyn Union and during a May 1st reinspection, the technicians not only turned the gas off, they ripped the meter out. They also cited Lomonoco for not providing proper venting.
Then, finally, Rico had himself checked out. Results of a May 2 blood test proved that he was suffering from carbon monoxide exposure.
Since Brooklyn Union shut off the gas, Rico has been without heat or hot water, taking cold showers, eating out–and looking for a new apartment.
Rishi Realty refused to return its steep finder’s fee when Rico called to complain about the dangerous apartment they had referred him to. An agent with the firm refused to comment on Rico’s claims.
Lomonoco, for his part, has installed a new vent. At press time, the landlord offered Rico a $3,000 check if he would leave. Rico says he will probably sign the agreement but is troubled by the provision releasing the landlord from responsibility in future legal action.
“Living there was killing me slowly,” Rico says. “Maybe if I wasn’t a bodybuilder it would have killed me altogether.”