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New York, NY - Running the Air-Conditioning 24/7 Without Pause Without Paying a Dollar Extra

Published on: August 16, 2010 11:51 AM
By:  NY Times
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New York, NY - In a handsome prewar building in Greenwich Village, a tenant struggled to remember the last time she turned off her air-conditioner. Upstairs, a young couple admitted to having let the window unit run for four days while they went out of town for a funeral, thinking it would be nice, amid the July heat wave, to return to a cool apartment.

Another resident of the 160-unit building, on Seventh Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets, says he leaves the air-conditioning on when he goes to work, when he sleeps at his girlfriend’s apartment, even when he leaves the country on vacation - and only partly out of sympathy for his cat, Kitty.

“My A.C. is pretty much running 24/7,” Kitty’s owner, Michael Perlo, a 28-year-old television producer, said with more bravado than guilt. “Not having to pay for electricity makes me a little bit more reckless.”

Forget round-the-clock doormen or views of Central Park. This sweltering summer, the most coveted New York real estate amenity is two little words that in other times can go unnoticed: “utilities included.” Mr. Perlo and his neighbors live in a building where not just heat and hot water, but electricity, is part of their monthly rent - a more-common-than-you’d-think arrangement caused by old-fashioned wiring in which a building has a single “master meter” tracking power use rather than individual meters tied to each tenant. They can blast their air-conditioners all summer long without paying a dollar extra.

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Con Edison counts about 250,000 apartments across the city, not including public housing projects, that do not have individual meters tracking electricity consumption, compared with roughly 1.75 million that do. One large management company, Cooper Square, estimates that these units expend at least 30 percent more electricity year-round than their counterparts.

So while lucky tenants across the city relax beneath arctic gusts, their landlords and building managers are left to worry whether these weeks of record-challenging heat will break the bank.

And regardless of who pays the electric bills, there is a considerable environmental cost: a 2009 report said that residential buildings account for 39 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, and 40 percent of the energy that buildings use is spent on heating and cooling.

“Using it when you’re not home is outright irresponsible and disrespectful of all the rest of us,” Dan Hendrick of the New York League of Conservation Voters said. “There’s no good way to look at this. The worst thing is, you’re warming our climate to cool your apartment for your own comfort.”

But as any introductory economics course might explain, tenants who blast air-conditioners on their landlord’s dime are making rational, predictable choices.

“This is Homo economicus coming out in full feather,” said Prof. Lawrence J. White of New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business. “When something is free, until some point of satiation, you will take up a lot of it.”

New York State’s Energy and Research Development Authority, in part out of concern over the environmental effects of excessive air-conditioning, is planning to offer building owners financial incentives to install “submeters” that measure individual consumption, a major construction project that can require a significant upfront expense.

Under an earlier incentive program, the state helped convert 426 buildings in the city over the last decade, said Jeffrey Gordon, a department spokesman.

The new conversion project will focus on submeters, which track individual electricity use but still feed a single utility account paid by the building owner or manager. (Some landlords then charge tenants based on actual consumption.) That is simpler than individual metering and is seen as an improvement over master meters because it introduces a level of accountability, according to state energy officials. Con Edison estimates that there are 30,000 apartments in the city with submeters.

David Kuperberg, the chief executive officer of Cooper Square, compared two co-op buildings he manages on the Upper East Side. Annually, the one with a master meter used 1.38 kilowatt hours per square foot more than the one with submeters, he said, costing an additional $52,000 a year. Over all, Cooper Square’s 45 or so master-metered buildings have energy costs 14 to 24 percent higher than their submetered counterparts, Mr. Kuperberg said.

But installing submeters almost always sets off a battle with tenants who are loath to give up what they see as a perk, even if it could lower their rent or maintenance charges.

“Many of these properties have older populations, and some people are scaring them, saying that if you do this your costs are going to go up,” Mr. Kuperberg said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Indeed, some tenants in Mr. Perlo’s building in the Village have become upset at a submeter plan in the works by the management company, Northbrook Partners.

Mr. Perlo said that Northbrook had agreed to knock $150 off his monthly rent; but some residents fear their air-conditioning habits would surpass that.

“It’s the end of an era,” lamented his neighbor, a telecommuter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering her landlord. “It was a great treat.”

Northbrook officials declined to discuss the matter.

Two years ago, a similar kerfuffle unfolded at Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, the famed middle-class enclaves overlooking the East River that had long offered “free” - at least to tenants - electricity.

Tishman Speyer Properties, which bought the complexes in 2006, announced plans to install individual meters in each unit as part of an effort to reduce energy use by 20 percent.

The news distressed some long-term residents, sparking newspaper articles and blog posts, including one that announced, “No More Free Electricity.”

Tishman Speyer abandoned the plans amid larger financial problems that ended with a default on the properties.

Danielle, a social worker who asked that her last name not be used, definitely considered free air-conditioning among the “pros” for the two-bedroom apartment in Stuyvesant Town that she moved into last month.

She and her roommate have kept their two units running almost constantly ever since, partly for her purse-size dog, who is in the house all day, but also for that moment, after trekking through the sweaty subways and steaming sidewalks of the city in summer, when they open the door and get to feel a chill.

“I don’t want to walk into a hot apartment at the end of the day,” Danielle said, simply. “It’s nice to not have to worry about it.”



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Read Comments (17)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Aug 16, 2010 at 12:40 PM Askupeh Says:

Imagine these buildings would be in Boro Park what would everyone say; but the libs in Manhattan get a free pass. Zei Maigen Alles, and dare lecture us on the environment! The lib who doesn't have kids doesn't want you to own a minivan but lectures you to bike while he/she leaves the air-condition on while at work (or rather play). What a hypocritic world we live in!

The parking spaces and even the bus stops have been removed on Flatbush Avenue, just to make room for a new bike lane there. The entire city is getting redesigned to make it comfortable for the hipsters who don't benefit society while making it more difficult for productive families to live here.

Maybe it's time to issue licenses for bikers and let them pay for the upkeep of the roadways. Let’s install 20 minute meters for bikes to park. Let the bikers pay their fare share in the upkeep of the bridges and roads like the rest of us. Maybe it’s time to demand that those who ruined our city - pay?

2

 Aug 16, 2010 at 12:54 PM awacs Says:

Why aren't the landlords more aggressive in pushing for sub-metering? It's their money, after all. And they're used to bruising battles with tenants, right? It's New York, okay?

3

 Aug 16, 2010 at 01:08 PM mewhoze Says:

everyone should have to pay for what they use.

4

 Aug 16, 2010 at 01:25 PM The_Truth Says:

Reply to #1  
Askupeh Says:

Imagine these buildings would be in Boro Park what would everyone say; but the libs in Manhattan get a free pass. Zei Maigen Alles, and dare lecture us on the environment! The lib who doesn't have kids doesn't want you to own a minivan but lectures you to bike while he/she leaves the air-condition on while at work (or rather play). What a hypocritic world we live in!

The parking spaces and even the bus stops have been removed on Flatbush Avenue, just to make room for a new bike lane there. The entire city is getting redesigned to make it comfortable for the hipsters who don't benefit society while making it more difficult for productive families to live here.

Maybe it's time to issue licenses for bikers and let them pay for the upkeep of the roadways. Let’s install 20 minute meters for bikes to park. Let the bikers pay their fare share in the upkeep of the bridges and roads like the rest of us. Maybe it’s time to demand that those who ruined our city - pay?

Reply to #1:
Seems like you have a huge ax to grind, making up a theoretical what if situation & then getting annoyed about it! It would do you good to help change your attitude about things that dont exist (but would if it could) and focus on reality. A reality that people get free electricity and I think you are jealous!

5

 Aug 16, 2010 at 01:43 PM Anonymous Says:

Leaving your air conditioner running 24/7 is monumentally stupid. Even if you don't consider the cost to your landlord, at least consider the cost to yourself when you have to replace or repair that a/c more often because you burned out it's motor. Such waste, such stupidity. Nothing is really free, someone somewhere has to bear the cost, why should a landlord go out of his way for a tenant that is so thoughtless.
And to that moron Danielle who leaves the a/c on all day just for that moment of feeling that first chill when she walks into her apartment, I have one word: TIMER. Buy one, use it, she'll still feel that moment of mechiah but the a/c will have only been turned on for half an hour or so.

6

 Aug 16, 2010 at 02:22 PM Askupeh Says:

You bet I have an ax to grind and grind it I will, Hodeik Heteiv; but jealous I am not, there you got it wrong. Read what my legitimate gripes are and this is but a drop in the bucket. Consider them honestly one by one.

7

 Aug 16, 2010 at 02:39 PM Jimmy37 Says:

Nu, so what's new here?? People are selfish and greedy. If it's free, they'll use as much as they want, regardless how wasteful it is. These people should be charged more rent when the cost of utilities go up. Maybe ConEd will be allowed to charge more to buildings that include all utilities.

8

 Aug 16, 2010 at 03:46 PM FinVeeNemtMenSeichel Says:

"This is Homo economicus coming out in full feather,” said Prof. Lawrence J. White...

Well, the article did mention the building is in the Village, did it not?

9

 Aug 16, 2010 at 04:38 PM Shmuel Says:

This is just a normal economic behaviour of the normal people. I did the same when I lived in all-utilities-included apartment in downtown (or Center City, as they call it there) Philadelphia for years. In the winter, if the apartment was getting a little too warm, I would open windows instead of turning down the heat, thus getting fresh air and the pleasant ambient temperature at the same time.

#5 - in the rented apartment, the landlord is usually responsible for the repair or replacement of the air-conditioning units. Even if the tenant is - todays window units are inexpensive, especially in stores like Wal-Mart, and are effective and reliable - last long time. The comfort of running it hard would certainly be worth to me having to replace it slightly more often.

There is one way to compel people to be more mindful of utilities cost - make them bear that cost. It's no different from anything else, health care most definitely included!

10

 Aug 16, 2010 at 04:56 PM Askupeh Says:

Reply to #8  
FinVeeNemtMenSeichel Says:

"This is Homo economicus coming out in full feather,” said Prof. Lawrence J. White...

Well, the article did mention the building is in the Village, did it not?

It does indeed take a village.

11

 Aug 16, 2010 at 05:15 PM Anonymous Says:

The author of this article fails to note that the NY public service commission is considering a rule requiring master metering of ALL rental properties by 2012. The free lunch is almost over.

12

 Aug 16, 2010 at 05:19 PM Anonymous Says:

#2 two reasons the wiring is still expensive requiring licensed electricians with little sign of recovering that cost and second the rent regulations as per controlled or stabilized apartments would cause a rent reduction greater than the monthly saving - put together its lose - lose for many owners who are already in financial trouble

13

 Aug 16, 2010 at 05:45 PM Bunglow guy Says:

look who's talking people, how many of us leave A/C running 24/7 the bungalow ? raise yours handss! I rest my case!

14

 Aug 16, 2010 at 07:24 PM Bunglow guy Says:

look who's talking people, how many of us leave A/C running 24/7 the bungalow ? raise yours handss! I rest my case!

15

 Aug 16, 2010 at 10:16 PM Anonymous Says:

to poster #9,

I rented for years in NYC and never in all those years were any of the landlords responsible for the air conditioners. Maybe it's different in Philadelphia.

16

 Aug 16, 2010 at 11:59 PM Matzoslocal101 Says:

Someone beat me to it, but if the AC is the major perk the landlords should buy a 15 timer (shabbos zeiger bla"z) for each of their tenants and it should pay itself back in a month. On the other hand if these greenwich village artsie hippy green type hypocrites continue to misuse enegy and destroy the environment why should the rest of us have to listen to them about our power usage?

17

 Aug 17, 2010 at 08:43 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Askupeh Says:

Imagine these buildings would be in Boro Park what would everyone say; but the libs in Manhattan get a free pass. Zei Maigen Alles, and dare lecture us on the environment! The lib who doesn't have kids doesn't want you to own a minivan but lectures you to bike while he/she leaves the air-condition on while at work (or rather play). What a hypocritic world we live in!

The parking spaces and even the bus stops have been removed on Flatbush Avenue, just to make room for a new bike lane there. The entire city is getting redesigned to make it comfortable for the hipsters who don't benefit society while making it more difficult for productive families to live here.

Maybe it's time to issue licenses for bikers and let them pay for the upkeep of the roadways. Let’s install 20 minute meters for bikes to park. Let the bikers pay their fare share in the upkeep of the bridges and roads like the rest of us. Maybe it’s time to demand that those who ruined our city - pay?

I live in one of these buildings in Boro Park, (and no i won't tell you where) most older buildings were designed this way including in Boro Park

18

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