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NYCHA owes tenants rent money over heat outages, Legal Aid Society suit claims

Housing authority argues rent abatements will take money away from repairs.

NYCHA is facing a lawsuit by the Legal

NYCHA is facing a lawsuit by the Legal Aid Society over persistent heating issues that affected hundreds of thousands of residents this winter. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

The Legal Aid Society took NYCHA to court Thursday over the months of heat problems that tenants endured during the winter.

The class action suit calls on the city to provide rent abatements to tenants who were without heat or hot water during the season. Lucy Newman, the Legal Aid’s Civil Law Reform Unit staff attorney, said NYCHA consistently failed to provide adequate fixes, especially during the multiple subfreezing days in December and January.

“The law is very clear: NYCHA is legally required to seamlessly provide these utilities to residents. When that promise is broken, there is a price that must be paid,” she said in a statement.

The suit noted that NYCHA officials admitted that 323,098 residents had no access to heat or hot water between Oct. 1, 2017, and Jan. 22, 2018. Legal Aid is still quantifying the full scope of the problems, but estimates the total damages could range from anywhere between $5 million and $20 million.

NYCHA spokeswoman Jasmine Blake argued that rent abatements would only create more problems for tenants.

“Every dollar spent on a rent abatement would be one less dollar for staff and repairs that we need to restore and maintain heat service. That is ultimately what our residents need,” she said in a statement.

The suit comes amid management shake-ups and added scrutiny at the housing authority. The agency is under an investigation into whether it fraudulently misled inspectors over lead paint issues in its properties.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency and ordered the creation of an independent body to oversee NYCHA as well as an additional $250 million in funding.

This week, the agency’s chair Shola Olatoye announced she would resign from her post at the end of the month.

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