Thursday, March 04, 2010

PSC and DHCR Stonewalling on FOIL Requests Regarding Conversion of Electrically Heated Oceangate Project to Submetering

Incomplete Information from PSC
The North Bay Tenants Association filed a petition in January 2010 with the New York Public Service Commission seeking to halt the conversion of the premises from master metering of electricity to submetering. The premises, a former Mitchell-Lama project owned by a Starrett company, are electrically heated.

The online PSC file for PSC Case 06-E-0847 contains the March 8, 2007 PSC Order "So Ordering" a PSC Staff Recommendation to approve the application. A FOIL request yielded only the owner's July 12, 2006 letter petition from Herbert E. Hirschfield on behalf of the owner. This was obviously incomplete. The first sentence of the PSC Order approving the petition refers to a second document submitted by Hirschfield dated December 1, 2006.
By letters dated July 12 and December 1, 2006, Herbert E. Hirschfeld, P.E. (Applicant), on behalf of Oceangate Associates, LP (Oceangate Associates), requested permission to submeter electricity to residential tenants at Oceangate....
Hirschfield's petition for permission to submeter clearly indicates that Starrett informed PSC Staff of its plan to submeter electric heat:
Apartment heating is provided by electric baseboards and domestic hot water is provided by burning natural gas in hot water heaters located in each building utility room. Cooking is provided by gas supplied by Keyspan. Apartment cooling is by individual through the wall-mounted air conditioning units.
The PSC Staff Recommendation did not address the impact upon tenants of shifting to them the cost of baseboard electric heat. The only mention of heat in the PSC Staff Recommendation is oblique, contained in a parenthetic description of the Con Edison bulk rate suggesting that submetering would be less expensive than if the building were converted to direct metered service from Con Edison:
According to the Applicant, the buildings will be billed at Con Edison's bulk electric SC-12 (Multiple Dwelling Space Heating) rate which will be less expensive than the SC-7 rate for directly metered service (Residential and Religious – Heating).
In the Roosevelt Island case and the Yonkers Riverview II case the Commission reconsidered its prior orders allowing submetering, in part because the Commission was unaware that the premises proposed to be submetered were electrically heated and was unapprised of the consequences, especially for lower income tenants. In the Oceangate case, the PSC Staff Recommendation that was "so ordered" by the Commission skated around the fact that it has many low-income tenants, even though the owner had mentioned in the application that Oceangate "contains a total of 542 apartments, all occupied by subsidized residents....

No Information from DHCR
In November 2009, Starrett filed a request with DHCR for "confirmation" of submetering, alluding to
  • a DHCR "utility allowance schedule submetering electric,"
  • a "DHCR utility Allowance for 2010 for the project including a factor for electric heat,"
  • "DHCR has the information for utility consumption for the entire project submitted as part of its annual audited financial statements provided to DHCR on an annual basis, and submitted as part of its BRD process,"
  • "rental adjustments for submetering," and
  • other items.
As counsel to North Bay Tenants Association, PULP made a FOIL request to DHCR for documents on December 23, 2009, related to these and other items mentioned by Starrett in its letter to DHCR.

DHCR did not respond to the FOIL request.

73 days after the FOIA request was made, and after a reminder, DHCR acknowledged receipt of the FOIA request in in a March 8, 2010 letter (received March 12) saying the agency will respond in 20 days.

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