Even after alerting property managers, ‘You kind of feel like they aren’t going to do anything,’ says one five-year resident. Borough officials say they can do more to help if residents notify them directly.
By Matt Skoufalos | December 11, 2020
For three consecutive mornings last week, Yvonne Valenza noticed that the heater in her apartment at the Parkview at Collingswood didn’t seem to be functioning at all.
While temperatures outside registered in the mid-thirties, the thermometer inside her home read a brisk 54 degrees.
After a week of cold weather, Valenza put in a call to the maintenance staff Thursday, and tried to turn up the heat, to no avail.
She was told someone would be up to check on it.
No technician ever arrived to inspect her unit, but after 20 minutes Valenza finally felt the temperature begin to shift. By late morning it had risen to 61 degrees—better, but still not the 72 degrees to which she’d set it the night before.
“It’s been at or below 60 as it’s gotten colder, and the heat has been so inconsistent,” she said.
According to Jacqueline DeRita, senior property manager at the Parkview, the in-room units operate in conjunction with building boiler system controls that are fed information from some 200 sensors throughout the complex.
“The system is designed to achieve temperatures that meet or exceed the state requirements, but are also mindful of conservation, so as to not waste energy,” DeRita said in a written statement.
In the experience of residents like Valenza, however, that system prioritizes energy conservation over renters’ comforts. If she hadn’t placed a call to building maintenance—and followed it up with others to the Collingswood borough government—she could have been sitting in a cold apartment for a fourth day running.
After five years of living at the complex, first under management company Greystar, and now under Morgan Properties, which purchased and rebranded the Parkview in 2017, “things keep going downhill with the management,” Valenza said.
While acknowledging the work implicit in maintaining a 72-year-old quartet of high-rise buildings, she and her neighbors talk about feeling “pushed off” by building managers when they tell them of their problems.
In 2019, after the complex sustained its fourth death in three years, NJ Pen surveyed residents about their top concerns with the property—waste, pest infestations, utility service issues, communication with management—and shared the results with Morgan Properties.
A year later, little seems to have changed.
“Things that are going on don’t get addressed right away,” Valenza said; “[you] kind of feel like they aren’t going to do anything.”
When Parkview residents take to social media to complain, they often are met with callous remarks from neighbors who consider the property a blight on the community, which further discourages them from speaking up, she said.
“People have disparaging language about the Parkview and the people who live here,” Valenza said.
“[Residents] don’t feel valued here, or respected, and that perpetuates the problems that are going on here,” she said.
“They just feel like their voice doesn’t matter, their concerns don’t matter, and when you start to feel that way, you just give up trying to get your concerns addressed.”
‘People are complaining on social media, but we’re not getting complaints’
Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley said the borough government can best intercede on behalf of Parkview residents when it is made aware of issues promptly.
Maley said that too often, complaints lodged only on social media linger there alone.
Instead, he and Collingswood Fire Chief Keith Davis urged residents to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with their quality-of-life issues, or to call Collingswood Deputy Fire Chief Geoff Joyce at 856-854-1043, extension 105.
“We see people saying the place is awful, and that has not been the experience of our inspectors,” the mayor said. “Our trouble is people are complaining on social media about it, but we’re not getting complaints [at the borough government]. If there are issues, they’ve got to get addressed.”
Residents’ troubles are further compounded by the economic effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which Maley said has left some 40 percent of Parkview tenants delinquent on their rents. Despite the availability of $4 million in CARES Act rental assistance grants through the Camden County government, renters in only eight of the 1,035 units on the property had applied for relief through the program.
“We’ve been working with Parkview over the last month with a real focus on trying to spread the word on the rental assistance programs,” the mayor said.
“They’ve still got to take care of units that people are in, but revenues are way off.
“We’ve got to have a holistic approach where we can get assistance in, eliminate that [revenue shortfall] as potentially a reason, and also make sure that they’re responding,” he said.
Collingswood Fire Chief Keith Davis said his office has responded to every complaint it’s gotten from Parkview residents, and that staff at the facility are cooperative with officials when they investigate. However, their jobs are made harder by delays in reporting issues, he said.
“We need to know those issues when it’s happening and not days after,” Davis said.
The chief said he expects that the decades-old complex will have heating issues, but also noted that management recently has replaced “every boiler in every building,” which DeRita corroborated in a written statement.
“Each room has a separate heat pump unit, and occasionally can fail, as can happen with any appliance,” she wrote. “No heat is considered an urgent maintenance matter, and we respond to all no heat calls promptly.”
DeRita added that the Parkview is compliant with “state and local heat requirements,” and “take[s]this matter very seriously.”
She urged residents to contact the onsite management office with any concerns.
Nearly 400 resident complaints this year
Davis said that the borough fire department previously has cited Morgan Properties for failing to resolve heating issues at the Parkview.
Collingswood municipal ordinance requires landlords to maintain indoor temperatures of at least 65 degrees during the day between October and April; failure to comply can result in a court summons.
“We’ll issue violations,” he said; “the main thing we want to do is see it fixed.”
In 2020, Parkview racked up 358 fire and housing code violations during its annual fire inspection, which Joyce said is common for a property of its size. Upon re-inspection, however, Joyce said “about 95 percent” of those concerns were resolved, and property managers “made a valiant effort trying to get to 100 percent.”
Outside of that annual inspection, Joyce said his office has fielded 31 additional, complaint-driven, quality-of-life inspections related to bug infestations, water leaks, temperature regulation, and other resident concerns. To address them, however, inspectors need “witnesses, not hearsay,” he said.
“We’re as responsive as we can be, but we need people to allow us to get in and see the issue,” Joyce said.
“Some people e-mail, I reply back to them, and they never get back to me.”
When Parkview management is made aware of such issues, they do address them, he said.
However, given the volume and frequency of concerns about conditions at the property, some tenants are just tapped out.
One C Building resident, who would only identify himself as a senior citizen, said he’s experienced heating issues in his unit since last weekend as well as ongoing concerns about water intrusion in his bathroom.
The former issue was resolved by Monday afternoon by onsite maintenance staff, but the latter hasn’t been seen to, even with the intercession of Camden County code enforcement officials.
“Having support from government and local authorities is a relief,” the resident said, adding that it helps him feel “that we aren’t taking all of this on by ourselves.”
Nonetheless, he added that his own concerns are symptomatic of broader systemic communication and transparency issues at the complex.
“It’s not just about me, it’s about all the residents, the people who live here!” he said.
“There’s a point where we’re talked down to and ignored.”
Another B Building resident who’s lived at the Parkview for years, said many tenants bear their share of responsibility for issues at the complex as well.
That resident believes that if the property management paid security to patrol the grounds, it could cut down on “people doing drugs out of stairwells” and “doors propped open from people who don’t live here so they can get in.”
“I asked someone not to smoke in the elevator, and you would’ve thought I asked them to give me a million dollars,” the resident said.
“It sucks sometimes here, but other times I really don’t think it’s as bad as some people make it out to be.”
Please support NJ Pen with a subscription. Get e-mails, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or try our Direct Dispatch text alerts.