Premier Properties tells renters it will only accept payments through third-party servicers that tack on fees. Tenants are already reporting rate increases, and say their calls to onsite staff go unanswered.
By Matt Skoufalos | January 5, 2022
Just days after closing on the sale of the Parkview at Collingswood apartments—now known as Park View Towers by Premier Properties—residents say the transition from has been anything but a smooth one.
The four-building, 10-story complex, which is home to some 2,000 Collingswood residents, has had its share of problems under outgoing owners Morgan Properties of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, including homicides, suicides, muggings, drownings, environmental hazards, fights, and thefts.
Eventually, these were sufficient for the borough government to require Parkview to be staffed with security personnel.
In December 2021, elected officials negotiated with Premier for $25 million in facilities improvements as a condition of transferring to the new owners the 35-year PILOT agreement attached to the property. But they also voiced concerns about Premier’s alleged plans to resolve security issues at the complex by “re-tenanting” it—systematically removing undesirable renters in favor of higher rate-payers.
That stated strategy alarmed housing advocates, who urged tenants to be on the lookout for new policies designed to ensnare them in fines, fees, and greater risk of eviction. Now, according to some long-term residents of the facility, the change in management has already produced a number of significant concerns.
“Regretfully, payment will no longer be accepted in person :(“
In the final few days of December, after the sale was given its final approvals, renters say they were locked out of the Morgan Properties tenant portal through which they paid their bills.
Some who had established automatic rent payments through the portal weren’t given the opportunity to disable them.
Others who had received novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic rental assistance say those funds were slow to populate their new accounts in the Premier system, where they also discovered new charges in their ledgers that they could not readily identify.
In the meantime, tenants received a letter from Premier on January 4 notifying them of their obligations to pay rents on the first of every month, as well as new changes to its accepted methods of payment.
“Mail-in payments via check or money order are still accepted for a limited time,” the letter read. “Regretfully, payment will no longer be accepted in person :(”
It continued: “We want to ensure that you’re comfortably prepared as the new systems roll out and recommend planning accordingly to avoid any late fees.”
“As a valued resident, we’d like to provide you with the best living experience possible! Regretfully, non-payment of rent prevents us from servicing you properly.”
The new system obliges residents to use one of two payment methods facilitated by Santa Barbara, California-based real estate software company Yardi, both of which incur surcharges to process. They have a choice of electronic debits from their bank accounts, or “WIPS,” a Yardi service described as a “Walk-In Payment System.”
To use WIPS, residents must know the exact amount of their payments due as well as their account number within the system. They must then obtain a check or money order in that exact amount—plus a $3 fee—and travel to a WIPS-participating location (the closest is the Ames Drug Store on Collings Avenue) to make their payments.
E-mail notifications announcing resident enrollments in WIPS warned: “Be sure you know what you owe before going to the store,” and “Keep your receipt. It is your only proof of payment.”
Many residents reported that the messaging was sudden and confusing.
One, a five-year renter, said the e-mail “wasn’t identified as something that came from building management.
“It looked like a scam,” the renter said.
The tenant, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation from management, also noted that Park View Towers houses many senior and homebound residents who may not have the ability to meet the new structural obligations presented by Premier.
“There are people who are disabled here, mentally and physically, that can’t get to those places, or may not even know to go there,” the renter said. “How do they know that these payments are being transferred online?”
Complicating matters were widespread accounts that the onsite management office at the complex was unresponsive to phone calls at the time these communications were circulated, which led to fears that their rent payments would be counted as late or missing, accruing fees or grounds for initiating evictions.
(Neither did Premier Properties respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.)
“Even if you put your banking information in for autopay to the new owners’ bank accounts, it still has to clear, and there isn’t enough time,” the renter said. “They just opened the portal a couple days ago, and not everybody is able to access it.
“That’s not counting the people who live in this building who are 80 and 90 years old, and have no concept of any of this,” the renter said. “How do they know they’re supposed to take a money order over to Ames, and are they capable of getting there?”
Another 10-year Parkview resident said that before the sale was completed, Morgan Properties had already begun raising rents during their last two lease agreements, perhaps to make the property more attractive to new buyers.
In addition to increasing costs during the pandemic, another renter said Morgan offered the best value on an 11-month term, which does not comply with municipal code (237-13) requiring all leases be structured for 12 months at minimum.
“It’s unconscionable, but every single place is doing that,” the renter said. “It was at least a $100 hike, and obviously the conditions have only been worse.
“The reputation here is that it’s a dump, but for years, I didn’t care that it’s a dump,” the renter said. “The place itself could be so good if it would just be taken care of and rented out fairly, but there’s no cap on that.”
“A property that charges you for paying rent is not a more attractive property”
Adam Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Share Housing Center of Cherry Hill, a nonprofit that advocates for the proper treatment of low-income residents, sharply criticized the rules changes that make it more difficult for tenants to pay their rent.
“To make it so that in a complex of over 1,000 apartments there’s nobody onsite that you can go and pay your rent to, and resolve any disputes with, to understand what you correctly owe—especially in a time when many people have been getting emergency rent payments due to COVID—really is a recipe for trapping people in minor violations, and trying to use that as a basis to claim late payment and try to evict people,” Gordon said.
“I also don’t know how that squares with their comments of wanting to make this a more attractive property,” he continued. “A property in which you’re essentially charged for paying rent is not a more attractive property. These kinds of additional add-on fees make it difficult for people to handle the basic functions of life.”
Gordon added that Park View Towers is an apartment complex “of unique significance to Collingswood” in terms of both its size and the demographic diversity of its occupants.
“The local government has a responsibility to ensure that people are treated fairly who live there,” he said. “There are substantial things that local governments can do to oversee rental properties.
“As these things happen, it’s going to be important to look at what other ordinances might be necessary for the borough to pass to make sure that residents are treated fairly here,” Gordon said.
“It’s one thing to have the tax abatement agreement, but that’s separate from the general local ordinance powers that a municipality has.”
Collingswood Borough Administrator Cass Duffey said that the municipal government already had a meeting with Premier scheduled for next week, at the property owner’s request, before the concerns rolled in.
She encouraged residents to report their issues to both the property manager as well as to local officials, and said the municipal government will continue to work to keep Premier accountable.
“We’ll be responsive to folks; we also want to give the Park View folks some time to transition,” Duffey said.
“If there are genuine code enforcement concerns, or issues we can look at with borough resources, we will look at it.
“For maintenance issues, they should be using the most efficient ways so that [Park View is] able to respond to those things.”
Duffey was also concerned that Premier had not yet staffed its buildings with security teams, as was outlined in the terms of its agreement with the borough.
“Having security shouldn’t be a tradeoff for good services; we agree,” she said. “We want those things too.
“Park View Towers residents are Collingswood residents, and they should have the same standard of living,” Duffey said.
“It was a struggle with Morgan; in this sale, there’s a hope and an opportunity for good services from Park View Towers.
“We intend to meet with them regularly, respond to residents regularly, and hold them to the promises made at the sale,” she said. “If they’re not, we’re going to respond item by item, or in a bigger-picture way.”
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