By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Monday, Dec. 20: This story has been updated to include further information from Montclair Township’s communications director on findings by the township’s fire official and health department.
What management described as an “invaluable, time-saving” amenity for residents has turned into a trashy situation at the Valley & Bloom luxury apartments, residents say.
In late November, real estate company LCOR, which manages the building, announced residents would be given a new valet trash service so that they wouldn’t have to haul their waste down to their floor’s trash room, according to messages residents shared with Montclair Local. Instead, residents were given 13-gallon black bins to be placed outside their doors during certain hours, and Valet Living Services would pick up the contents.
There were a few caveats, however: the bin could only be placed outside the door Sunday through Thursday, from 5 to 7 p.m. The bin then had to be taken inside a resident’s apartment by the end of the two-hour period, or the resident could face a fine or removal of the bin, according to notifications sent out to residents.
And the service is mandatory, at $25 a month on top of the $500 a year amenity fee residents already pay, according to text messages to residents from management.
Emily Copeland, a senior vice president with LCOR, told Montclair Local the service is in addition to the standard trash chutes available on each floor of our building.
“By offering our residents the option to leave trash and recycling right outside their doorstep, it adds an invaluable, time-saving option for them and our staff alike,” she said.
At first, management told residents the trash rooms would remain open for those who couldn’t make the two-hour time period or for those going on vacation, according to texts sent out to residents. But later, management sent out a text that it would be closing the trash rooms on Dec. 3.
Within days, the trash in the corridors started to mount, with residents not making the two-hour window of time due to work commitments, commuting or being out to dinner, resident Christen Stevenson said.
She said some residents would put their trash out at 6 p.m., only to find the valet had already passed their areas or floors. Overflowing trash and bagged bottles began to seep into the carpet and the corridors smelled, she recounted fellow residents saying. Boxes to be recycled lined the corridors. The loading dock was loaded with bags as residents tried to dispose of their garbage themselves, Stevenson said.
“I don’t want to bring guests over. I am embarrassed,” Stevenson said.
Residents who signed up for a concierge building with garbage service didn’t think it would wind up in the hallway, said Dani Powell, who started a petition against the service and a private Facebook page for resident support.
Residents have gotten “desperate,” Powell said. Shopping carts loaded with trash bags are showing up on floors and people are disposing of trash on stairwells, she said.
The tenants have taken to their community Facebook page to voice their concerns, posting text messages from management in response to their frustrations. The petition Powell started had 99 tenants signing by Dec. 19. They say it’s in protest of an amenity they never wanted.
The residents filed complaints with township fire code officials, the township health department and the New Jersey Bureau of Housing Inspection.
Katya Wowk, the township’s communications director, sent Montclair Local information provided by the township’s code enforcement and health departments. The code enforcement department said the property owners were “not violating any town, health or fire codes,” though township code does require occupants of units to put their trash in receptacles.
A recent inspection by the township’s fire official (Powell said that occurred Dec. 1) found no fire safety issues, but the resident who complained was given information about contacting the state Department of Community Affairs’ New Jersey Bureau of Housing Inspection, according to the code enforcement office. State administrative code says garbage and refuse must not be set out on stairways or fire escapes or in common hallways in multifamily units.
On Dec. 15, the state Housing Inspection office inspected the building, but all of the receptacles and trash had been removed by management, Powell said. In a text sent to residents who questioned where their bins had gone on Dec. 14, management said that the service remained but that the bins had been removed to keep them out of the hallways, and that residents could request them back.
A text from management to residents said that the state found no problems during the inspection, but Montclair code enforcement, in a message passed along by Wowk, said the State Housing Inspection office cited the property owner. An email sent to the New Jersey Bureau of Housing Inspection on Dec. 16 from Montclair Local has not yet been returned.
Powell said she has not heard back from the township health department after she filed a complaint when she discovered fecal matter in a box set out for garbage pickup.
But Copeland said the service provider “is in constant contact with state and local fire marshals, and the valet trash amenity service is safe and approved.”
On Dec. 13, a meeting was held with 50 tenants showing up to tell LCOR management and the valet service they were against the adoption of the service.
According to Powell, residents at the meeting were told the reason for the switch is that the trash rooms were becoming unsightly due to residents not using the trash shoot or it becoming clogged, and tenants not placing their recycling in the appropriate bins.
“They have taken that problem from a very small area and it’s now up and down the corridor,” Powell said.
Residents walked away from the meeting feeling that management felt they “were just going to have to live with this,” Powell said.
Since the visit from the New Jersey Bureau of Housing Inspection, management has now changed the valet service to 7 to 9 p.m., and the trash rooms’ doors will remain unlocked.
Copeland said the doors to the trash rooms were initially locked as part of the new program and to encourage use of valet trash.
“Based on feedback from the residents we have reopened the trash rooms and they will remain open,” she said.
The hours were changed after feedback from residents as well, Copeland said.
“We find that this time works best for most of our residents, but when residents are unable to make the timeslot, they can simply take the trash to the trash chutes themselves,” Copeland told Montclair Local.
But Stevenson said she placed her trash out within the two-hour time slot before she left for an event in Montclair on Dec. 15, and when she returned at 9:45 p.m., her bin had been confiscated because she didn’t bring it back into her apartment.
“I pay $2,400 a month to live here. I shouldn’t be stressed out over a basic service,” she said.
Copeland said the bins are the same as others used nationwide, “as the average apartment resident produces less than one bag of trash a night.”
According to residents’ leases, trash removal is included in their utilities and corridors must be kept free of trash and other personal belongings. Residents cannot opt-out of the amenity fee “as the service is not optional,” Copeland said.
Other amenities — doorman service, a personal concierge and package room attendants — have been removed over this year, several residents told Montclair Local or posted online. One resident wrote on a Google review that management has removed the “luxury” that this self-proclaimed “luxury” apartment building once had.
“You solved a problem I didn’t have,” one resident wrote in the Facebook community group.