Action on Several Fronts as RIOC Ducks for Cover

Manhattan Park Sub Metering Complaints Heat Up & Grow

Updated 28 weeks ago David Stone
A look inside one of Manhattan Park's hidden electric closets
A look inside one of Manhattan Park's hidden electric closets

Tenant complaints about Manhattan Park's sub metering of electricity expanded quickly this week, sparking action from the Public Service Commission with new issues now on the table. Not unexpectedly, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, in an as far as we know unprecedented move, hunkered down in bunker mode when asked for simple information.

Elderly, Hungry, Freezing and Politically Indifferent on Roosevelt Island

When we published Life on Roosevelt Island, the Borders of Survival, earlier this week, about deplorable conditions reported by a tenant in Manhattan Park's Section 8 housing at 2/4 River Road, public response was strong and concerned. But demonstrating once again the disconnect between public officials and residents here, elected representatives were at best committed to what appeared to be logrolling and, at worst, indifference to the plight of seniors.

None showed any inclination to confront Manhattan Park or RIOC, the State agency that owns the land it leases to Manhattan Park's invisible owners under contracted conditions it's been shown to disregard.

But yesterday, attorney Mark Lyon, who's battled Manhattan Park over alleged sub metering violations for more than five years, weighed in with legal requirements for landlords in Section 8 housing. One of them should be easy to verify, and we've sent feelers out to tenants to do just that.

Another, a reporting requirement, involves RIOC.

We sent Public Information Officer Alonza Robertson, President Susan Rosenthal and Vice President Jacqueline Flug a straight forward question requiring no more than a simple "Yes" or "No" answer. When it comes to RIOC's relationship with Manhattan Park, however, nothing is simple.

"We are deeming your email a FOIL request and it will be responded to accordingly," Flug shot back in what appears to be an unprecedented move to delay or defer answering.

With FOIL - Freedom of Information Law - requests, RIOC typically takes as long as it can, a full month normally, to respond. Frequently, the response itself is incomplete.

Asked why she took this position when answering a direct question about public information would require, at most, an hour or two to investigate, Flug did what she usually does when confronted about confusing behavior - for example, when she claimed that RIOC was not "a State agency" - she unplugged.

We did not make a FOIL request, and if we had, it would've been more comprehensive. But as of yesterday, we have one. Residents will have to wait an extended period for an answer RIOC probably already knows or should.

We can only guess at the cause for delay. RIOC isn't talking.

Nitty Gritty Details Flag Possible Sub Metering Abuse

"I notice that Manhattan Park has filed a HEFPA implementation plan, along with form documents, in 11-M-0710 (Docket #250 - Filed 9/27/2013). I have attached a copy for your convenience," Mark Lyon wrote to the Public Service Commission in January of 2014.

"In their filing, they claim to be consistently following the 1980 order permitting submetering, but as of yet, I've not been able to get a copy of that order from either Manhattan Park or the PSC. I find it difficult to understand how they can represent that the order has been followed when they cannot produce a copy of same."

Those circumstances have not changed in the four years that have passed. That is, no one, including Manhattan Park, has located the order they say permits sub metering on River Road.

Lyon's case got lost at PSC after he relocated from Roosevelt Island to Washington. Why that happened is not clear, but both Lyon and PSC are now back at work on it.

The "HEFPA implementation plan" Manhattan Park signed off on included a claim that it was and would be distributed to all tenants annually. That also has not taken place nor has their promise that sub metering would result in tenants saving an average of 40% on electric bills.

When we researched two years ago while working with then State Assembly Member Micah Kellner, we were unable to find a single entity that paid a higher rate than Manhattan Park, not just on Roosevelt Island, but in the 48 contiguous states.

Lyon continued his argument: "Additionally, on Page 5 of the attached PDF, a memo from PSC Staff indicates that in December of 1988 Manhattan Park agreed to a cap on rates that would not exceed the cost of usage under Con Ed's SC1.

"As I have noted before, I believe the developer has at times charged rates in excess of SC1, that they are making profits on the charges and fees, that they do not provide the appropriate reimbursement or protections for subsidized tenants, that their grievance procedures are inadequate and not followed and that their billing process (depositing a combined rent/utility bill under the door on the date it is due, then later sending by mail a separate statement that explains the already-due utility charges) is improper."

At the moment...

We were informed yesterday by PSC that they have sent a letter to Grenadier Realty, Manhattan Park's owner.

Asked for a general summary, a PSC representative explained, "The letter advised that we have received complaints from tenants at Manhattan Park, have concerns regarding submetering compliance, and they have 10 days to provide staff with required documentation."

As this story continues to break, expect us to follow up with reports.

In the meantime, we suggest that all tenants at Manhattan Park who believe their electric bills are inaccurate contact Property Manager Brian Weisberg (212-759-8660‬) or email bweisberg@grcrealty.com.

According to the rules in place, oral or written complaints are both acceptable, and Manhattan Park has agreed to respond in writing within 30 days. Multiple people have reported that Manhattan Park does not follow this practice, an experience we can personally confirm, but for your own benefit, do it and document. You should also make notes about any prior experiences with the complaint procedure, good or bad.

You can also make a complaint to the Public Service Commission: complaint.filing@dps.ny.gov Include "Sub Metering" in the subject line to have it routed swiftly to the appropriate representative.


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