new york city

Next life, I want to be a plumber.

Posted by Steve on Thu, 10/16/2014 - 5:20pm


Back in 2011, I wrote an article about my failing Weil-McLain steam boiler entitled Got Three Estimates?  Get Three More. The article concluded with my finding a plumbing company willing to rebuild my ancient autofeed mechanism for a fair price.  Despite most heating contractors swearing that my 42 year-old boiler wouldn't survive the season, it made it through 2011, 2012 and the brutal, polar vortex winter of 2013 without a burp.

Two weeks ago, I relit the pilot light on boiler.  The outside temps were in the 60s so I didn't turn on the boiler.  A few days later I noticed that my kitchen extension floor was a pool of water.  Rats, I'd left the windows open before an intense thunderstorm.  Cursing my stupidity, I mopped up about 15 gallons of water and went upstairs.  I returned an hour later to see the floor soaked again.  The windows weren't the cause.  There were no water pipes in the extension and it was bright and sunny outside so I didn't know what was behind this.

While mopping up for a second time, I heard an occasional *bloip*, like a leaky faucet into a pan of water.   It was coming from the baseboard radiator.  When I lifted the access panel I saw water squirting out of the air valve like a drinking fountain.  At least I knew what was causing that.   It was the autofeed/low water cutoff again... probably a stuck float.  No problem, I'll call the same plumbing company that fixed it last time.


From the Brooklyn Row House mail sack...

Posted by Steve on Thu, 03/15/2012 - 1:01pm


I received an email today from a producer of a new home show looking for volunteers with a troublesome room in their house that they want renovated... for free!   A prerequisite is that you must own your place and be within 35 miles of NYC.  You can read the rest in the boilerplate below:


DOT sidewalk inspection scam?

Posted by Steve on Wed, 07/28/2010 - 8:40pm


My doorbell rang this afternoon. It was my cheerful postman, Kevin, and he had a certified letter for me.  Certified letters are almost always buzzkillers.  I could see from the envelope that this one was from the NYC Dept of Transportation so I knew it wasn't congratulations from Publishers Clearinghouse.

Kevin said that every house on the block, except one, got certified letters from DOT. What the hell, I've got nothing to be concerned about  My sidewalk and curb are in excellent condition.  I signed for the letter and opened it up.

Inside was a Notice of Violation that my sidewalk had been inspected and was found to have a "trip hazard". The notice said that I needed to replace ten square feet of sidewalk. There was a graphic indicating this general section of my sidewalk.

In NYC -- and I presume that this is the case in most large cities -- the building owner is responsible for the condition of his sidewalk.  If a sidewalk falls out of repair it's the homeowner's job to repair it, just as it's his job to keep it clean and clear of snow.

However, enforcement has typically been limited to third party complaints, not proactive inspections.   I'm told the city is named in tens thousands of predatory civil suits every year related to substandard sidewalks, some of them pretty funny... like the guy who tried to sue my neighbor for "loss of marital congress" after he allegedly tripped on a crack on the sidewalk and broke his pinkie finger.  I swear I'm not making this up.

Last year around this time, a non-DOT crew, which I presumed to be an independent contractor, was tearing up and replacing sidewalks all over the neighborhood.  It was the same sort of thing: an anonymous inspector had run around the neighborhood tagging damaged sidewalks for repair. 

Certified letters were sent to homeowners with vague indications of the nature of the violation.   They were given 45 days to either apply for a permit and get the job done by a licensed contractor or the city would do the job @ $9+ square foot and bill the homeowner.

The thing is, I walked those sidewalks several times a day.  While a few of them did have some issues with tree roots, most of the sidewalks that were replaced I remember as being in fine shape.  At least, I never saw an issue with them.  The entire process struck me at the time as being somewhat arbitrary, which is to say fishy.  And now here we are again.

Can anyone spot this "trip hazard"? Bear in mind that my sidewalk is everything below where that stoop starts at the left side of the photo.  The questionable piece of sidewalk is on the lower right, immediately adjacent to the white painted curb cut up to the first vertical seam.   Here, let's zoom in on that section of sidewalk and see if we can spot that dangerous "trip hazard"...


The High Price for Cheap Rent

Posted by Steve on Sun, 11/15/2009 - 11:57pm


On a nearby street, a line of ugly, cheaply built, 1980s-vintage row houses stand on a plot of land where there was once a neglected old Victorian. The six houses share a communal front "yard" -- a quarter-acre concrete pad that gives the place all the charm of a New Jersey strip mall. To complete that grim visual, cars are illegally parked on it, usually double wide, often obstructing the sidewalk.

In fact, there are more cars than one would expect from six single-family homes. A couple of months ago, I deduced why that was when I saw a small "For Rent" sign hanging from the railing in front of one of those row houses. The answer: because they've also got illegal apartments. A visit to the Department of Buildings' information system confirmed that all of those houses lack a Certificate of Occupancy to permit rental apartments.

NYC's Most Expensive House

Posted by Steve on Fri, 09/26/2008 - 1:44am


I don't know which is more remarkable: the price tag or the appreciation.

The 18,500-square-foot, 103-year-old Henry T. Sloane Mansion at 18 East 68th Street just went on sale for $64 million, the most expensive officially listed house ever in New York. I thought that rocker, Lenny Kravitz, had set the unbeatable bar a couple of years ago when he paid a reported $40 million for the Duke-Semans mansion on Fifth Avenue. But since then there have been several townhouse sales in the $50 mil range. Not surprisingly, many of them are owned by weasels financiers, probably paid for by fat Christmas bonuses.

Since none of us will probably ever set foot in a house this expensive, let's take a virtual tour of this joint.

The outside is nice. Okay, it's a mansion. Maybe it's not the largest or most impressive crib in the neighborhood but, hey? No garage? Where do you store the garbage cans? And for $64 mil I want a second floor deck overlooking the peasants so I can pose like Mussolini. Something maintenance-free, maybe Trex. A few potted plants. Some string lights. Yeah.

The limestone could use a good cleaning. For this scratch, don't you think the sellers could invest in a little curb appeal?

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