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Legal Aid Society sues NYCHA on behalf of tenants affected by heat outages

The Legal Aid is demanding rent rebates for public housing tenants left without heat this winter

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The Legal Aid Society has filed a class-action lawsuit against the New York City Housing Authority, after the agency refused to meet a demand from the society that demanded up to $15 million in rent refunds to public housing tenants that lost heat during the city’s cold front.

The suit was filed in a State Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleging that the NYCHA closed heat complaints before they were resolved and also misled the public regarding the length of heat and hot water outages and the lead time on conducting repairs, reports the New York Times.

“The law is very clear, it requires they provide heat at a certain level, and if they don’t, they are subject to a claim,” said supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s reform unit, Jennifer Levy in a statement. They are seeking between $2.5 million and $15 million in rent refunds to tenants who were left without heat or hot water, depending on the length outages and the average monthly rent of $509.

However, NYCHA officials say that by issuing rent abatements, the agency would have less money to spend on carrying out essential repairs. “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,” said NYCHA spokeswoman Jasmine Blake to the Times.

The agency is facing another lawsuit from the Citywide Council of Presidents (CCOP) that demands the court to “impose an independent monitor” over the agency. Governor Andrew Cuomo has responded to that demand by recently declaring a state of emergency for NYCHA to expedite repairs and calling for the appointment of an independent monitor who will oversee the expedited repairs at NYCHA facilities.

Earlier this week, the head of New York’s public housing authority, Shola Olatoye announced that she has resigned from her position and will vacate her post at the end of April, amid increased scrutiny of the agency due to its handling of a series of different scandals.