Lack of service perplexes residents
Conditions improve at Sundance Apartments after renters voice concerns
Driving into the Sundance Apartment complex today, it looks a lot different from the outside than it did a week ago.
The grass has been cut and most of the garbage from the complex’s one Dumpster has been emptied since the City of Tonganoxie found the complex to be in violation of its grass and weed ordinance, as well as its sanitation ordinance.
This came as a delight to the residents of the complex, who have said that, for weeks, they’ve had to live with garbage piling up at the Dumpster and grass taller than 12 inches in some places.
P.J. Duncan told The Mirror on April 29 that she couldn’t remember the last time a Honey Creek Disposal truck came by to collect the garbage at the complex. As a result, she said wild animals had started getting into the garbage and making a mess, forcing her and some of the other residents to have to clean up.
The overflowing Dumpster, the unkempt grass and the laundry list of unresolved maintenance problems had just become a part of everyday life for the residents. For the past four months, the residents said there was little communication between them and the complex’s managing company, Cohen-Esrey Real Estate Services.
Those who desperately needed some kind of work done did it themselves or, if they could afford it, paid somebody to do the work that was supposed to be done as part of their lease agreement. However, many of these residents are on a fixed income or are disabled.
Linda Brake, another resident who said she was fed up with the way the complex was being managed, took photos and video of some of the problems.
Brake said there is no manager on the property. For months, residents didn’t have anybody at the manager’s office full-time to go to and ask to take care of their problems around the complex. They said they’ve called the management company several times, but rarely get a reply. Once the trash started to pile up, they also found out nobody was paying the bills.
City officials said in March the complex was on the list to have its water shut off for lack of payment. City employees had to scramble to get in touch with someone to pay the bill. The bill was paid, but not before the residents found out what happened.
Brake said that month Tracy Gordon, who oversees the Sunshine Apartments for Cohen-Esrey’s offices in Overland Park, had a meeting with the residents and took their complaints and said they would be resolved quickly. Brake also said when Gordon was asked if the company had paid its water bill, Gordon said it was paid weeks ago. Residents called the city and found out they were four days away from having service cut off for lack of payment.
“She just stood right there and told us a bald-face lie,” Brake said. “We should not have to live like this considering that we pay our rent. They are not living up to their part of the contract.”
Officials from Honey Creek Disposal, who removed the garbage from the site, said they had stopped picking up the garbage because they haven’t been paid in several months.
Duncan said the lack of communication and the failure of the company to pay its bills is something that makes her worry. She said the last thing she wants is to be kicked out of her home because the company is going under.
“I can’t sleep at night,” she said. “You see these people who rent their homes and then they have a notice on their door that you have a week to leave. What would we do if that happened?”
Contacting the owner
Kathy Bard, assistant city administrator, said the city recently had problems getting in contact with a Cohen-Esrey representative and the city was aware of the situation with the water bill. She said the city would never turn off the water to the complex because the management company did not pay.
“We know it’s not their fault,” Bard said. “They are paying their rent and their other bills. We would never turn off their water for that.”
April’s water bill has been paid.
On April 29, the city sent its code enforcement officer to inspect the property. Bard said the complex was in violation of the city’s codes for weeds and sanitation.
The management company had 10 days to comply with city regulations or face fines.
Bard was able to get in contact with Robert Rousey, of Cougar Capital Group, one of the managing general partners who owns the property, and explained the situation.
Rousey said Cohen-Esrey manages several of his group’s properties and he’s never previously had this problem. He said he wasn’t even aware of the problem until Bard contacted him Wednesday.
He thinks the problem stems from not having an on-site manager at the complex.
“I think they should have had someone out there on a temporary basis while seeking a new manager,” Rousey said.
He said he has since contacted someone at Cohen-Esrey to fix the problem and will follow up to make sure the residents get what they need.
On Thursday, Honey Creek Disposal trucks were at the property to clear out some of the garbage. On Saturday, landscapers were out mowing the lawn.
This was good news for Duncan.
“We don’t want to move,” she said. “I think all of us have decided when we moved in that we love it out here … if they would just take care of it for us.”
Ryan Huffman, senior vice president and managing director for Cohen-Esrey Communities, wrote in an e-mail that he visited the property Friday. He stated repeated phone calls to Gordon by The Mirror were not returned because all media inquiries must run though his office.
In the e-mail he explained what happened at the property. He stated the initial company in charge of maintaining the grounds did not meet their standards, so they changed lawn care vendors, which caused a delay in the service. He said the new landscapers tried to mow the grass last week, but were not able to because of the weather.
Finally, Huffman insisted that there has been a property manager at the complex.
“There is an office manager, and has been for the last three weeks,” Huffman wrote. “She provided a letter to the residents two weeks ago introducing herself and encouraging them to contact her with any outstanding concerns. The majority of the residents took very well to her and even provided her treats in the office.”
Genelle Benjamin was hired to manage two of Cohen-Esrey’s properties, the Sundance Apartments and the Pine Crest III Apartments in Eudora. She said she began working part-time at both properties April 20. She was attending an annual training seminar last week, but said she resigned from her position at the company Thursday.
She declined to specify the reasons why she resigned. Since at least April 30, the positions for property manager in Tonganoxie and Eudora have been listed as available on Cohen-Esrey’s Web site.
Signs have been posted on the doors and windows of the manager’s office, directing residents to call Gordon with any concerns.
Duncan and Brake insist that residents have called her several times and left messages with their concerns and maintenance issues, but their calls have never been returned.
But Huffman disagrees.
“We take resident concerns very seriously here at Cohen-Esrey, as does Tracy Gordon,” Huffman wrote. “I have spoken to Tracy personally about this situation and she has assured me that she is not aware of any outstanding phone calls to her direct line.”