The heat is on... or is it? Advocate threatens rent strike; management co. claims problems are fixed
by Dylan M. Archilla Reporter Staff Writer
Feb 07, 2003 | 2301 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Complaints of lack of heat, hot water and at times no water at all have risen at the Lenox Apartment Building (formerly Washington Towers) in Union City, according to tenant advocate and president of the 211-member Washington Towers Tenants Association Wafaa Mikhail.

"I am tired of doing this [asking for assistance]," said Mikhail before the Union City Board of Commissioners last week. "I am a pharmacist and I want to be comfortable when I come home," Mikhail continued.

According to Union City Housing and Health Inspector Alex Velasquez, "This is a problem that has been here for a long time."

Urban American Management CEO Phil Eisenberg admitted that there were heating problems on one particular night but that they were promptly repaired and heat was restored.

Mikhail accused the management company of shirking their responsibilities.

According to Lenox resident Ray Foley, "We had some problems a couple of weeks ago." He continued, "The problems happen enough to be annoying but they don't follow a schedule or anything." Foley added that his main problem is that "the landlord removed the back-up boiler. I give them credit for putting in a new boiler, but what happens if that fails?"

Said Mikhail, "Last week, the management company left on a Friday knowing there was a problem with the heat and hot water."

Mikhail renewed her call for a permanent full time property manager to be placed on site. This is something that has been introduced as an ordinance in Union City and is to be implemented at an unknown future date. And according to Mikhail, the superintendent at the Lenox claims that he can't do anything to solve the problem as he is not trained in boiler maintenance.

Another issue brought up by Mikhail is that "unlicensed" people are working on the boiler and "possibly messing with the computer program" that governs the functions of the boiler. Said Mikhail, "We also need a back-up boiler. Every other building has one, why don't we?"

Union City Mayor Brian Stack has been, according to many sources (including Mikhail and inspector Velasquez), very hands-on in this situation. Said Stack at last week's commissioners meeting, "You shouldn't have to live like that." Stack also referred the subject of back-up boilers and any laws requiring their presence in high rise buildings to Luis Martin, the commissioner of public works.

According to inspector Velasquez, he has given out 30 fines, which total a charge of $500 per apartment. Union City construction code official Marty Marinetti echoed the sentiments, saying, "We have many problems with Urban American Management."

According to the mayor, the thirty summonses issued are now in the hands of the New Jersey State Superior Court.

However, Phil Eisenberg, chief executive officer of Urban American Management, was steadfastly adamant in his defense of UAM's response to heat complaints. According to Eisenberg, "We had a serious problem last week. During the cold snap, a motor that drives the boiler failed. We had people over there working for hours. We pulled people from our other buildings in the area to work on the problem. The boiler was up and running the same day. We took immediate action to have it fixed." Eisenberg admitted that later the same night, when temperatures dipped into the single digits, some lines froze. "We had some complications that night. Therefore some apartments had some heating issues. The problem was fixed immediately."

Eisenberg also expressed confusion and disdain when asked about the thirty fines levied against his company. Said Eisenberg, "We have not received notice of any fines concerning heating problems at the Lenox." This runs directly counter to what was stated at last week's commissioners meeting and suggests something else may be at work here.

Said Eisenberg, "We took all action humanly possible. Unless you have an ax to grind, there is no one that can say we didn't do everything possible to fix the problem." Eisenberg continued, "There are people in that building that have a different agenda."

UAM currently owns 100 buildings in Union City and West New York and according to Union City mayor Brian Stack, "They may be spreading themselves too thin."

Urban American Management CEO Eisenberg was so indignant at the accusations that his company hadn't acted properly to address any heat problems at their buildings, he invited The Reporter to come to their office and look through their computer records and files.

Tenant advocate Mikhail announced during last week's commissioners meeting and in an interview after the meeting that "if the heat breaks again, we're going on a rent strike. I'll call all my tenants and tell them to put a 'stop payment' on all their checks."
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