The property owner, a company connected to an infamous family of landlords, has yet to begin repairs, and tenants in six apartments say building staff have pressured them to return to shelters while they await a large-scale fix with no definitive timeline.

Adi Talwar

Residents at a former Department of Homeless Services shelter have been without hot water or cooking gas for over two months.

Dozens of formerly homeless families living in a Harlem apartment complex have gone nearly two months without gas or hot water after the building’s dangerously damaged piping forced a service suspension the landlord has yet to fix.

The property owner, a company connected to an infamous family of landlords, has yet to begin repairs, and tenants in six apartments say building staff have pressured them to return to shelters while they await a large-scale fix with no definitive timeline.

The six-story complex at 203-211 West 145th St. belongs to brothers Jay and Stuart Podolsky and their associates, property owners who over the years have been charged with harassing low-income tenants, convicted of grand larceny and accused in 2019 of cheating on their taxes while renting apartments to the city for use as emergency shelter. The building is owned by a limited partnership called 203-211 W 145th Street Associates and documents list the Podolskys’ brother-in-law as mortgage-holder.

The 72-unit complex, once known as the Tower Hotel, functioned as a cluster site—privately-owned properties that the city would rent out to house the homeless—until the units were converted to permanent housing in 2019 and the residents became tenants, their rents covered by city housing vouchers.

Con Edison cut the gas to the building on May 14 after inspectors discovered corrosion on the line underneath the courtyard leading to the street, a spokesperson for the utility said. Three tenants said workers warned of damage that could have resulted in a gas leak and explosion.

Building tenants have made 46 complaints to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) in 2021, including 22 for no heat, hot water or gas since May 17, records show.

On July 6, seven weeks after the initial service cut-off, City Limits visited the building to meet with tenants and saw no evidence of repairs underway. Building staff refused to answer questions and a security guard kicked journalists off the property during an interview with a tenant.

The next day, two residents shared photos of a service interruption notice informing them that gas and hot water service would be suspended for 90 more days.

Six families interviewed for this story said the property owners previously provided no timeline for the gas line fix and that staff informed them they would have to leave their homes indefinitely—a threat that city agencies and a representative for the property owner say is inaccurate and potentially illegal.

Kenneth Brown, 60, said building staff told him to pack up his belongings and prepare for a move into a homeless shelter. He said he feared getting transferred far from northern Manhattan because his mother lives nearby and his 11-year-old daughter attends an East Harlem school for children with special needs.

“When I first came here, they asked if I wanted to be here permanently. I thought this was permanent housing,” said Brown, who has lived in his first-floor apartment for five years. “They told me I have to leave and that they have to move us out.”

Brown’s upstairs neighbor Nancy Burgos said staff told her and her two children, 11 and 19, that they also had to leave the building and move most of their possessions into a storage facility. She said she has a CityFHEPS housing voucher but never signed a lease, and worries whether she would be able to return.

“All of us feel the same way. We have rights,” Burgos said outside the building.

“If you transfer us, we’ve got to start all over,” added her neighbor Mary Nalls, who has organized tenants to call for the needed repairs. Nalls said she has been using her last few dollars to rent a hotel room so she can take a hot shower. She and Burgos both said they have had to use up their food stamps early in the month because they can’t cook at home.

The building owners have provided microwaves and refrigerators to tenants who need them and the city has provided meals during the outage. Officials from the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and HPD said they have pressed 203-211 W 145th Street Associates to expedite repairs.

The tenants have a right to remain in place but can opt to move into temporary accommodations at family shelters if they prefer, they said.

“No New Yorker should have to go without the heat or hot water that landlords are legally required to provide—and in our city, we expect property owners to make the repairs necessary to ensure residents receive these services,” said DHS spokesperson Isaac McGinn.

An HPD spokesperson said tenants who decided to leave and move into a shelter can return to their apartments at any time and that they can work with HPD to file a complaint if they experienced harassment.

City officials also said they are determining whether they can legally withhold rent payments to 203 W. 145th Street Associates until the repairs are made.

Various attorneys and agents associated with the building, including Jeffrey Peldman, the mortgage-holder; Podolsky family lawyer David Satnick, listed as property officer until 2019; and private shelter operator Alan Lapes, previously listed as property agent, did not respond to multiple phone messages seeking comment.

Instead, a representative for 203 W. 145th Street Associates contacted City Limits on their behalf and said “no rent is expected to be paid until the problem is corrected.” The man, who identified himself as Tony Coppola and said he was a contractor who oversees renovations at Podolsky-owned properties, told City Limits that tenants who opt to leave will not lose their apartments.

“Everybody will be back,” Coppola said. “No one is asked to leave and I know the city is very concerned that it gets done right away but that it gets done in a proper manner.”

He said the work will likely take at least another month to complete. Con Edison said they will turn the gas back on once the landlords install functioning pipes and workers from the utility company perform integrity tests to ensure the new lines are safe.

Work may well begin soon: Andrew Rudansky, a spokesperson for the Department of Buildings, said the property owners hired a plumber to replace 50 feet of gas piping in the building basement.

“This application has been approved by the Department. DOB will continue to expedite any applications or inspection requests associated with this job,” Rudansky said.

In the meantime, tenants worry about how many more months will pass before they have their gas and hot water back.

“You gotta constantly heat up water in a microwave just to take a bird bath,” said Burgos, the mother of two. “If the city is paying for us to stay here, why is there no gas or hot water?” 

City Limits’ series on family homelessness in New York City is supported by Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York and The Family Homelessness Coalition. City Limits is solely responsible for the content and editorial direction.

Read more: