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Battery Park City residents cold, but repairs are slow

Pauline Wolf poses for a photo in her

Pauline Wolf poses for a photo in her apartment in the Gateway Plaza, an apartment complex in Battery Park City in Manhattan. The 94-year-old is one of many in the complex that are suffering with inadequate electric heaters through this winter's bitter cold. (Jan. 22, 2014) Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Families and elderly tenants have been freezing in their Battery Park City luxury rental apartments at Gateway Plaza in the recent extreme cold, and the problem is not going away soon.

Residents and owners all say windows are drafty and insulation repairs are needed, but it is uncertain when all of the repairs will occur.

"This is ghetto luxury living," said tenant Nancy Nowinski who sleeps with three comforters at night and duct tapes her windows to keep the cold air from coming in.

She said maintenance workers have installed foam strips to "plug up" the drafts of cold air that come through the heating units, but to no avail.

"The temperature in my apartment is always between 49 to 61 degrees. I've had it. I've called 311 and I'm tired," Nowinski said.

Glenn Plaskin, president of Gateway Plaza Tenants Association, said the conditions are due to inherent problems in the building that need repair. "The building is 30 years old and there are 1,712 apartments and many tenants are having major problems such as snow and ice and even rain coming through their windows." he said. "It's a structural defect."

A spokesperson for The LeFrak Organization, which owns the building, blames the slow pace of repairs on the Battery Park City Authority, which owns the land and collects ground rents from the various high-rise apartment buildings.

"The property's management would like to make investments in the property, but is unable to do so without the cooperation of the property's landlord, which is the Battery Park City Authority," the agency said in an email.

Battery Park City Authority, a state agency, said it was working with LeFrak and had given the owner concessions on its rent so that improvements on the building could begin.

"In early 2013, we understand management had promised tenants they would make the necessary improvements to replace windows, heating and A/C units, and insulation by year's end; however to this date, the majority of this work is yet to be done," the authority said in a statement.

A meeting is scheduled for next month among LeFrak, the Battery Park City Authority and the tenants association.

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has been advocating for the tenants, said they have "suffered for years because of poorly insulated windows and enormous electric bills."

The frigid temperatures have forced Pauline Wolf, 94, to bundle up in throw blankets to keep warm and crank up the heat full blast so she can sleep at night.

"I'm very happy living here," she said from her one-bedroom apartment where she has lived for 12 years. "I love my apartment, but it's freezing," she said. Last month, Wolf's electricity bill totaled $277.30, which includes heating, lights and other appliances, and is higher than normal.

Wolf pays $3,100 a month in rent. Despite a new heater that was recently installed, cold air continues to blow through the sleeves of the heating unit. LeFrak has started to install 400 new heaters.

"It feels like I have the air-conditioning on in my bedroom," said Wolf, who keeps a space heater next to her living room recliner to keep warm.

Wolf's son Michael also lives in Gateway Plaza. He said he has to put towels on the windowsills to soak up the melted snow and ice that build up during the night.

"The water runs off onto our carpets and floors," said Wolf, who thinks a rent strike will force The LeFrak Organization to install new heaters faster and insulate the apartments to keep the cold air out. "We can put the money into escrow until something is done."

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