On Roosevelt Island

Manhattan Park's Roosevelt Island Stories

Peter McCarthy, David Stone
Manhattan Park
Manhattan Park
© David Stone for The Roosevelt Island Daily

Do you have a story to tell about dealing with Manhattan Park' management, particularly as regards electric bills? We are about to tell you some stories and ask you to share yours - confidentially - later in this article.

Are Tenants Paying for Each Other's Electric?

"When you complained to the office, did you ever get a written response or were you told about a grievance procedure that included an impartial third party arbiter for resolving disputes?"

The answer came quickly: "No."

Mike (not his real name) left Roosevelt Island behind after being unable to get answers or relief from Manhattan Park management after being hit with what he considered outrageous electric bills. The apartment he shared for years with his partner and their cat was immediately converted into one of the many dormitory style units now filling up River Road.

Resident of a three-bedroom apartment, frequently unoccupied because of travel demands, one bedroom used only for guests, Mike received a single month bill for over $1,200.

Comfortable with technology, he used the specifications for the heating/cooling units in his apartment and the kilowatt hours charged by Manhattan Park to calculate that the units would have had to be running at maximum capacity 90% of the time during the billing period. This was not only absurd, it taxed the conceivable physical limits of the equipment.

His call to Manhattan Park's management office did not result in an explanation or any follow up. He took the trouble of talking with QuadLogic, the company signed on to administer remote meter reading and billing. QuadLogic was more courteous and responsive but conceded that they had neither insight nor control over what circumstances prevailed on the far side of the meters.

Micah Kellner, State Assembly Member for Roosevelt Island at the time, studied Manhattan Park's sub metering history and suspected that tenants were not being charged "equal to the amount of energy used in the apartment," as management pledged in the grievance procedure RIOC approved in 1989. A possible explanation existed.

Manhattan Park's sub metering approval, one of the first ever, did not require individual meters. He wondered if the owners were using a formula for determining usage, questioning whether true apartment specific readings were being made. He was also concerned that tenants were being charged for electricity used in common areas, another violation.

But there was a  problem. Manhattan Park was stonewalling him when he sought information just as tenants were.

A Single Guy Who's Not Home Much Racks Up Big Bills Anyway

Another friend left after getting clobbered with inexplicably high electric bills. Jeff (also not his real name) told a story consistent with one we were told earlier.

Before we met Jeff, a single woman we knew became so distressed over her electric bills, she turned off all of her circuit breakers. That would stop her meter from accumulating more, expensive kilowatt hours, but it did something else.

It put out the lights in her neighbor's apartment.

This helped explain Jeff's dilemma.

A single man who commuted out of state to work every day, he spent not much more than sleeping hours in his one bedroom unit, except on weekends. When away, he left his heating/cooling units off. He still got hit with a $400 electric bill.

Funny thing was, his next door neighbor, a family with two children and a parent who worked from home in a roomy three bedroom, got a nearly identical bill. Needless to say, his neighbors were among those with no complaints about their sub metering charges.

Frustrated with that as well as other management issues, Jeff packed up and left Roosevelt Island, his issues never resolved, unaware of any grievance procedure.

Giving Up After Twenty Years in Manhattan Park

"One reason we left our apartment in Roosevelt Island which we loved was the increasing rent and increasing electric bills. We complained about both but no reactions," was Hugo's response to the same question I asked Mike. Hugo is not his real name.

I used to walk up the promenade with Hugo, a Wall Street banker. We sometimes met at the top of the escalators while leaving the subway on weekday evenings. Both of us worked long hours, his longer than mine, and we'd unwind by talking about anything from classical music, a shared passion, to the shenanigans he observed at work.

Hugo's insider look at banking and investment fascinated me, but although he worked one on one as an advisor to some of the most powerful names on Wall Street, he could not make progress with Manhattan Park's management.

Unaware of any grievance procedure, fed up, he and his wife called the movers and left their three bedroom apartment after more than twenty years.

The apartment where we shared quiet dinners and noisier parties was soon converted to a dormitory with transient foreign students and visitors coming and going in stays as short as three months. Renters of the dormitory units lock down the apartments by paying a year in advance, the turnstile residents probably having no idea about the amount or propriety of electric usage for which they are being billed.

A Personal Story

Except for a two year interval, my wife and I have lived in Manhattan Park for twenty-five years. We love living on Roosevelt Island and, in spite of frustrations raised with management over sub metering, filthy, littered hallways and disastrous maintenance projects, we have always figured a way to renew our lease at a fair price.

For us, Manhattan Park is a sad story of a great set of buildings in the city's best neighborhood being neglected by tenant-hostile property management.

For example, a friend's three bicycles were ordered taken from an outdoor rack by Public Safety because management made an inexplicable and impromptu decision not to allow overnight storage. Unfortunately, our friend was visiting family in Europe when the decision was made. By the time he flew home, Public Safety had disposed of his family's bikes.

Manhattan Park Property Manager Brian Weisberg's response: Tough luck.

Personal reasons forced another couple to leave their apartment two months before their lease expired. Weisberg refused to allow movers to use the building elevators to get their belongings down to their truck, even though they promised to pay everything due. With movers standing by at an hourly rate, the city police had to be called before Weisberg backed off.

When our apartment was broken into by someone with a master key, almost certainly an employee, Manhattan Park refused to do more than change the locks. Weisberg, again, suggested that we must have left the door unlocked and propped open when we went out.

There are more stories to tell, but returning to the subject at hand, that is, suspicious sub metering charges, I confess that my wife bested me in a years long debate.

The explanation for our high electric bills, she argued, was that we are being charged for usage at a neighbor's place in addition our own.

We turn on our air conditioning no more than ten days per year and, then, only during daylight hours. We shut off our heat at night. Most of the time, our units aren't on at all. Still, for years, our bills rivaled those of our next door neighbor's.

How could that make sense? Our elderly neighbors ran their heat or air conditioning 24/7, twelve months a year, yet their bills were only a little higher than ours.

Part of my argument was that we could never find out, since Manhattan Park was completely unsympathetic, and so, we should just learn to live with it. In our dealings with management, we'd suggested a method for checking, but they parried, as they normally do, by offering to have their business partner run an "accuracy test," which would tell us nothing about what we needed to know.

When I explained why that wouldn't answer our question, management employed yet another familiar strategy. They ignored me.

But just as fate wounds all heels, something happened. Our elderly neighbors moved to Queens, sick of maddening electric bills, and a younger family moved in.

Guess what?

Our electric bills suddenly and with no other changes fell by more than half.

My wife won the bet, but you can't say Manhattan Park agreed. What you can say is that they simply ignored the complaint again. Again. No explanation, written or verbal, no grievance procedure, nothing.

Share Your Manhattan Park Stories

We can document these and additional stories that drive home the point that Manhattan Park has never established the grievance procedure required in their ground lease with RIOC, nor have they let tenants know one was available where a "disinterested" third party might give them a fair hearing.

From the start, RIOC required Manhattan Park to protect tenants by establishing a grievance procedure, which they approved. Clearly, failing to do so is the easiest way to throttle tenant complaints.

Our goal is to compile as many valid stories as we can find and share them with RIOC and our elected officials as a way of convincing them that something has to be done about current and past violations.

We've told a few here, enough to suggest there are many more. If you have a story you can share, The Daily guarantees complete confidentiality. Tenants afraid of retribution can be sure your identity will not be revealed to management.

Please contact the editor, David Stone, with your past or present story: Click davestone13@gmail.com. We want to hear from you.

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