Abbey Court residents speak out against harrassment

Ruby Sinreich's picture

[Abbey Court] I just learned that there was a rally this morning at Carrboro Town Hall where residents of Abbey Court called for the town to do more to protect them from the increasingly-discriminatory policies of their collective landlord. In short: the owners have begun towing residents' cars if they don't meet a certain aesthetic standard. It really is that ridiculous. And probably quite racist, in my opinion.

Thanks to the Town of Carrboro's new Official Correspondence archive (kudos for openness!) I can offer some background about the situation.

From: Carolyn A. Hutchison [Carrboro Police Chief]
Sent: Thursday, July 17, 2008 3:50 PM
To: Steven Stewart [Carrboro Town Manager]
Subject: FW: Towing today
Importance: High

Steve,

Management at Abbey Court apartments is actively towing vehicles from
their lots today.  We do not have any authority on their property;
however, we are dealing with this situation to the extent that we are
able.  Officers are concerned that Management is towing vehicles that
belong to their own residents.  Many of the residents are trying to make
ends meet and need the vehicles to get to and from work, etc.
Apparently, Management is towing cars that do not "look good."  In other
words, if your vehicle has dents, needs paint, or has a cracked
windshield, Management will not issue a permit to park and Management
will tow the vehicle.  As you might imagine, Abbey Court residents may
not have the means to drive a pristine vehicle, but many are paying
their rent, and now are unable to get a permit to park in their own home
parking lot.  Then, their vehicles are towed from the lot; they're
responsible for the towing fees; and they have no car to get to work,
etc.

This is a bad situation.  Officers have voiced their concerns to Ms.
Gill (equity issues, justice issues, practical issues related to needing
cars to work, fears of increased frustration yielding violence-tow
trucks have been "attacked" today) but Ms. Gill says she's just doing
her job and her homeowners' association backs her.

I am open to suggestions (keeping in mind that this is private
property), and I think we should let the Mayor and BOA members know
what's going on.

Thanks.

Carolyn  

------------------

From: Dee Gill [mailto:DeeG...@TarheelCos.com]
Sent: Thursday, July 17, 2008 9:56 AM
To: Carolyn A. Hutchison
Subject: Towing today

Hi. I just wanted to let you know we are enforcing the towing policy
today. A couple of your officers were here last night and were concerned
there could be a riot. Officer Tripp came out yesterday morning over one
of the main trouble makers and more officers were here last night with
the same individual living in Z-12.

We are using Chandlers Towing phone # 220-5234. Your officers mentioned
there were many reports of stolen vehicles from other communities that
have enforced towing.

I also wanted to say thank you. The bus stop looks much better. The
problem of drinking alcohol is not over but it has sure slowed down
quite a bit.

Thanks again for your help and your officers help.

Deedee Gill

 

 [...]

From: Jacquie Gist [Carrboro Alderman]
Date: July 18

 I went to Abby Court yesterday after work.A group of about 25-30 had gathered on the lawn in front of the office. The majority of those in the group were women and children. Two very impressive young men, fresh out of high school, were acting as leaders and translators. Our police officers arrived around the same time as I did. They were wonderful! Management had just called 911 to report the gathering. Our wonderful officers told the manager that since the people lived there they had a right to gather. The tenants are very worried and scared. I don't know why but lots of, if not all of the tenants,are having to apply or re-apply for parking permits. The leases state basically that damaged,dented etc cars can not park there. I saw some cars that had been denied permits and witnessed one being rejected. These are not junk cars! If there is anything wrong,normal wear for an old car,then it is denied a permit. Several of the cars I saw that had been denied permits looked fine-it took close inspection to find anything wrong. One had a few inches of side stripping loose and was denied a parking permit. While I was there the management was taking pictures of the people who were holding signs of protest,not sure how they plan to use them.I do not fully understand yet why all of this is happening but these folks are clearly being harassed. Some of the tenants believe that management wants to replace them with rich students or condos.I would encourage the board to vocally stand up for the tenants.
Jacquie

You can read much more about this in the Town of Carrboro's archive at http://groups.google.com/group/official-correspondence/browse_thread/thread/65bd28e8ef14b297

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Total votes: 0

88 Comments

Maria Rowan's picture

Let Them Buy Priuses

If the Blue Book value of your car was less than a cosmetic repair on it, would you have the cosmetic repair done? Would you promptly sell a car  with cosmetic damage if the engine and transmission had many miles to go before they sleep ?

I wouldn't. I'm not in the financial position to scrap a working car or get new paint job whenever I get a dent or a scrape.

Obviously, I would make a lousy tenant. it's good we own our home.

I'm concerned that our local law enforcement could be faced with a riot or other reactionary responses over this. 

 

Mark Chilton's picture

I spoke at the rally

One of the things I said in my speech at the rally at Town Hall this morning is that the Town of Carrboro and the Carrboro Police Department is supporting the residents, but that the residents need to remember that we should struggle against the Tar Heel Company (Abbey Court management) with our voices, rather than our hands.  That message was favorably received and we (Abbey Court residents and I) discussed the difficult position that the Police Department is in.  We may have a significant confrontation at Abbey Court, but we must keep the peace.

affecting family members just visiting parents

MY mother leave in abbey court and she takes care of my sister children and yes like Dee Gill said  "she has a  very ghetto car" those exact word she used.Yes her car is  in bad shape but work find and no longer can she park there her car when she drop of her kid to go to work is find beacuse she thas not stay their for long but, when she visits in the weekend she parks in the pantry(gas station) crosses the  bussy street with her three children9,4,& 1. that is a accident waiting to happen the lady don't want her car even in the visitor spaces.

HOAs

Everything I've read in the newspaper says that this decision came from the HOA rather than the management company. Since the town of Carrboro has put a great deal of support behind HOAs in other areas, such as stormwater management and management of mandatory open space, I'm unclear on town government's role in issue. Can someone explain?
Mark Chilton's picture

Terri, the majority of all

Terri, the majority of all condos at Abbey Court are owned by the Tar Heel Company and its principal partner.  The Tar Heel Company is also the management company (they hired themselves).  Their attorney hides behind the claim that this is an HOA decision, but it is really the decision of one man.

In any case, I don't agree at all that we have "put a great deal of support behind HOAs."  Like most institutions, HOA's can be positive or negative influences - sometimes both.

Mark

I don't remember the exact history of how the Old Well apartments became Abbey Court condominiums, but didn't the town work with the owners and residents a couple of years ago to clean up some of the crime occuring within that complex? I'm not endorsing this vehicle decision in any way. I'm just trying to understand the full complexity of this situation.

It's unfortunate that the majority owners and the management company are one and the same in this instance, but it's possible that relationship has worked to resident's benefit in reducing the crime situation. Has anyone heard directly from the HOA? Are the officers aware of the problem?

Mark Chilton's picture

Oh.  Now I follow you.  I

Oh.  Now I follow you.  I am not sure about what specific work may have been done with the Abbey Court HOA - I thought you were speaking more broadly about HOA's in general. 

I have a call in to Ken Lucas who owns the majority of the units and who also owns the Tar Heel Co, which manages the property.  I expect to reach him on Monday, however I am certain he is well aware of what is going on.  As for the other members of the HOA board, they are all hand selected by him, unfortunately, so I don't know whether they know about this, but I am sure they will do his bidding regardless.

I think the situation will probably require a bit more than jsut an appeal to compassion.

 

Subtle

I think they call it "structural racism". Which is different then "racism", but it has the same effect.

Not so subtie

Well perhaps. Myself I don't see it. I remember when Stokely Carmichael coined the phrase "Institutional Racism" in the 1960's, which is what I think you are referring to. At that time it was painfully apparent he was correct just by looking around.

In this case though, I see a misguided and bungled attempt to implement the legitimate desire to "spruce things up". Perhaps it's good ol' fashion greed, perhaps it's the tyranny of the majority. OTOH I think there in fact, were cars in the lot that were unable to be inspected, registered or moved and that is a legitimate concern both aesthetically and for the convenience of the other tenants.

While I generally agree with most of the sentiment here, pointing fingers and shrilly screaming racism is not a good way to open dialog. Two monologs don't make a dialog and knee jerk reactions will not solve problems.

 

 

 

Anita Badrock's picture

If a car can be legally

If a car can be legally operated on NC highways,  it ought to be legal to park it in the Abbey Court parking lot.   Issue a certain # of stickers per housing unit,  make sure the cars are registerd, inspected, operable, etc, and be done with it.   I wonder if my car---8 years old, paint off a part of the rear bumper---would be aesthetically pleasing enough under these guidelines? 
Catherine DeVine's picture

This is scary

Management has no right to judge residents' cars, period.  If registration and/or inspections are out of date, it's not their problem or prerogative to tow them out.   My stepson's car at Cedar Court would be judged unacceptable on account of its appearance.  This is outrageous.  I wish a litigious lawyer would step in and sue those bastards. 

what's really going on here

I have a hard time believing that this landlord really cares about the aesthetics of the vehicles parked in their lot. It certainly sounds like Abbey Court is using their towing policy to achieve something it believes related to these vehicles or their owners. Is there any evidence to support Ms. Gist's statement of "some of the tenants believe that management wants to replace them with rich students or condos"? Is this related to the "bus stop" issue mentioned by Dee Gill? Are Abbey Court residents acting in some negative (or negatively perceived) manner that could be highly correlated to the landlord's invocation of these rules regarding vehicle "aesthetics"?

Visitor Parking

The new "visitor parking" is also inadequate and badly-located.  I live in Abbey Court and my girlfriend often visits; the "visitor" spaces are far enough away that it's not safe for her to have to go that far through the complex alone, especially at night.

Real motivation

"It certainly sounds like Abbey Court is using their towing policy to achieve something it believes related to these vehicles or their owners"

 Yes.  I think the #1 goal is to eliminate off-lease tenants by inconveniencing them to the point that they have to find another place to stay.  

 Also--following the claim above that THCo now owns the majority of the units--it wouldn't surprise me if their goal is to make the complex more "upscale" and student-oriented rather than worker-oriented.

Historically the condo nature of Old Well meant that each individual owner's incentive was to rent to the first potential tenant--the gain the owner would get by holding back to wait for someone "more suitable" was not enough to compensate for the lack of rent on that one unit.  But as the owner of most of the units--as in non-condo complexes throughout town--THCo can tolerate a higher level of vacancy if they feel it's necessary to do so in order to change the tenant demographics.

tenant at Abbey Court

D Davey,

Since you live at Abbey Court, perhaps you could publish the section of your lease that speaks to the upkeep and appearance of tenant's automobiles in the parking lot.

I know that when I lived in apartment complexes in CH and C-boro, I was not allowed to have a car that was not operable (ie on blocks, flat tires, non-working) and I was not supposed to preform car maintenance on my car in the parking lot.

Lease

The most recent lease that I have a copy of says:

[...]

"No motorcycles or other power-driven vehicles may be operated, driven, or ridden on the premises except while being moved into or out of the parking lot. The tenant of each apartment may park a maximum of Two operative automobiles in the parking lot which has been designated by the Landlord for this apartment. No inoperative vehicles or "junk" automobiles may be parked or allowed to remain on the premises or the adjacent street."

[...]

"In places where parking permits or stickers are required, such permits or stickers must be displayed at all times. The landlord is not responsible for vehicles not displaying permits or stickers that are towed. The tenant is responsible for securing such stickers and or permits. Lost or stolen permits or stickers will be replaced based upon payment of a replacement fee. Stickers or permits not returned at the end of the lease term or upon the tenant moving from the leased premises will be charged against the tenant's security deposit."

 [...]

" Vehicle repair work is not allowed except on very minor things. Vehicles parked here must be in good drivable condition, without conspicuous body damage, have a current license plate tag, the appropriate number of operable tires, and belong to the resident. Vehicles are not to be stored. No commercial vehicles may be parked on the premises. Exceptions can only be permitted by the management."

[...]

 [second quoted paragraph above repeats]

Two additional clarifications...

(1) Where I wrote "off-lease tenants", I suspect that "off-lease residents" would be a more accurate term (as I think a "tenant" is by definition on the lease).

 

(2) re: "rich students or condos?", as the units are already condo, the possibilities for THCo along those lines are are (a) replace current tenants with rich students or other higher-rent tenants, (b) raise unit values so THCo can re-sell the condo units it owns at a higher price than it paid for them, or (c) get ownership of a high enough proportion of units to vacate and raze the complex to build something new and higher-end (a la Grubb at Glen Lennox).

 My guess is they aren't long-term focused enough to attempt (c) and that unless they can sell all the units at once they wouldn't try (b).  So I think it's mostly about getting higher-rent clientele.

Anita Badrock's picture

again,  just allocate a

again,  just allocate a certain number of parking stickers per unit and that takes care of making sure every unit has the same amount of conveniently located parking.  Overflow is first come first serve.  

And I don't think it's unreasonable to restrict those stickers to cars that can actually operate.   Most neighborhoods have polices against junk cars sitting in the driveway.

But anything else seems--well....strange to say the least.     

 

Cosmetic Appearance Should Not Be the Criteria

My car is a 1995 sedan with a hideous peeling paint job.  It looks ugly, but because it's a Honda engine and has been reasonably well maintained, it runs like a dream. 

If they don't want junk cars to be sitting around, enforcing that vehicles be

1)registered with DMV

2)have a current state inspection

3)able to be driven around the parking lot for demonstration of operational function

or some combination of the above--seems much more reasonable and defensible than squishy cosmetic standards.

Mark Chilton's picture

Spoke to Ken Lucas

My thanks go out to the several folks who have emailed me regarding the situation at Abbey Court.  I have yet to hear from anyone who thinks the policy is being implemented fairly.  I spoke with Ken Lucas, who owns most of the units at Abbey Court as well as the management company.  He was unabashed and stated that he was being flexible and had only towed 12 cars (residents report 47+ cars towed; CPD says that it was about 20 the first day and more on Friday). 

Mr. Lucas and I spoke for about 35 minutes and I told him that I was not fooled by the effort to hide behind the HOA.  The HOA is entirely controlled by him because he owns the majority of all units.  I pointed out to him that his actions are hurting his relationship with the Town of Carrboro and that he was probably fortunate that the Town has not chosen to enforce its policies as strictly as he has chosen to enforce his.

I told him that he needs to suspend the policy for now while we work out a more agreeable approach and he flatly refused to do so.  I told him that if he is not goign to suspend the policy, then he needs to genuinely bring a degree of flexibility to the implementation of the policy that has been lacking so far.  He said that he would speak further with the on-site manager Ms. Gill after our conversation.  I have received no further reports regarding the situation, as I have been in meetings all day.

Thanks Mark.We will win

Thanks Mark.We will win this one,not sure how but I have a deep faith in our community and this is so "Un-Carrboro" that it can not stand.

Does the person making the report to inspections have to live in Abbey Court?I think that those living there maybe  afraid to file a report.

Jacquie Gist 

This is a bit tangential but

This is a bit tangential but I recently noticed that the News & Observer has enabled comments on all of their articles, and anything to do with immigrants quickly attracts a host of angry commenters who believe that "illegals" are the source of all problems, from crime to gas prices.  I've registered there just so I can cast neg votes against the bigots.

newspaper message boards

Good luck, but I'm not sure it's worth it. Commenters on newspaper message boards in general are an angry bunch. I'm not sure why so many newspapers are succumbing to the pressure to put those boards up, since they rarely produce anything remotely constructive.

I do have a guess.... I'd imagine that it boost the stats--both page visits and time spent on the page--that they tout to potential advertisers.

But in the long term, I worry about the true costs of presenting one more "legitimate" forum where angry, hateful people can stir themselves up.

Fred Black's picture

Now Lower

Mark, on both the H-S and the N&O sites, to comment you have to register and log in before you can comment.  They know who you are but the readers don't unless you tell them.  This is what is different, the letters to the editor cannot be anonymous but online comments can be to the reading public.  Seems to me that the papers are using a two-tiered standard.

Standards

"This is what is different, the letters to the editor cannot be anonymous but online comments can be to the reading public.  Seems to me that the papers are using a two-tiered standard."

But the standard also differs in that they select and print only a handful of letters to the editor, while anyone can register and comment and have the comment appear without any editorial action.

There is some value, I think, to having a forum that accurately reflects what readers want to say rather than just those reader views that the paper chooses to air.

Mark Chilton's picture

More Towing

I just sent the following email to the Board of Aldermen and Carrboro Staff: 

I got a call around 10 pm Thursday night from an Abbey Court Resident who told me that Chandler Towing was back.  I went over there (along with Alderman Gist) and we encountered a crowd of about 100 residents out front of the T building.  Two or more CPD cars were on the scene and Chandler Towing had a car hooked up.  The truck operator reportedly had tried to tow the car away when a young girl was in the back seat.  He was just then putting the car back down, but only after demanding (and receiving) a $100 cash payment from the owner of the car.  In the course of the events both the car that was to be towed and the car next to it were visibly damaged (presumably thereby further disqualifying them from parking there).
 
I spoke to the assembled crowd for 5 or 10 minutes and explained that the town does not have a lot of authority over the parking and towing policies.  I did mention that we have some code authority over the condition of apartments and the residents of Unit ___ registered concerns about suitability of the condition of their apartment and requested a minimum housing code inspection and fire inspection of their apartment.
 
I want the inspections and/or fire departments to respond as quickly as possible to determine whether the apartment meets our requirements and take appropriate action if it does not.
 
Attached is a photograph of about 1/4 the crowd.
-Mark Chilton

Abbey Court
LMT's picture

Who do I talk to?

Who do I talk to, to have somebody call in to my show about this on Wednesday when El Futuro will be the topic? Perhaps a resident, or will you be able to Mayor Chilton? Suggestions? Residents can stop the studio as well and voice their concerns. 

 

“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.” Helen Keller

Mark Chilton's picture

From the N&O

 http://www.newsobserver.com/news/story/1153895.html

From the N&O: 

In an interview Friday morning, Brad Chandler of Chandler Towing said his driver had already hooked the vehicle to his truck when the owners ran outside from their apartment carrying a baby in a car seat. He said the couple opened their vehicle's door and snapped the baby in the back seat to keep the car from being towed.

"We didn't hook to a vehicle that had a child in it," he said. "The people were outside screaming put the kid in the car, put the kid in the car."

Meeting Sunday

There will be a meeting of neighbors at 1 on Sunday in the board room at town hall.Supporters welcome-would be great if a few could notes or record the concerns of the residents.

Jacquie Gist 

Anita Badrock's picture

Mark, thank you very much

Mark, thank you very much for being engaged and involved in this matter.   (Your colleagues too).   What I cannot understand is why the management company won't deal directly with whatever problem they think exists and instead are trying to go back door by looking at the dents on people's cars.

The physical condition of somebody's car is not the issue.  Who cares what someone's car looks like?  Management seems to be saying that the physical condition of someone's car can be used to determine or predict other things, such as legal tenancy, propensity to commit crimes,  ability to pay rent, whether someone is a good neighbor, whatever.  

 If there are problems there, address the problems.  Don't make a blanket policy that affects people who are not causing the problem, and which has little or no actual relationship to the problem.      

Good thing my son doesn't live there.    His car definitely wouldn't pass the appearance test.  The paint is peeling and the door shuts with the help of a towel wedged into the doorframe.   It does however run like a top and he owns it free and clear.   Funny, I see his car as a symbol of his thriftiness and his ability to resist the rampant consumerism all around him.   I guess what a car means depends on where it's parked.  

LMT's picture

Tell it like it is!

Who do I talk to, to have somebody call in to my show about this on Wednesday when El Futuro will be the topic? Perhaps a resident, or will you be able to Mayor Chilton? Suggestions? Residents can stop the studio as well and voice their concerns

 

“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.” Helen Keller

Catherine DeVine's picture

Oh the brink

According to Mark's report and photo, Carrboro Police Chief Hutchison was correct in envisioning a potential riot.  The reappearance of that tow truck could easily draw angry residents from buildings A-Z and beyond (there are more than 26 buildings in Abbey Court). 

Do we have another Nathan Milian on our hands?  Mr. Lucas and property manager Gill sound like similar power-hounds. Meanwhile the tow-truck driver is making a fortune! 

 

LMT's picture

Wait...this is a different story

From the N&O article that Mark Chilton cited:

"Abbey Court began towing vehicles last week that had conspicuous body damage or whose owners could not provide registration and other paperwork. Commercial vehicles were also banned under the policy, which the complex said was designed to reduce crowding in its parking lots."

All unregistered cars and those without valid plates are subjected to be towed from any viligant apartment community. So, are they towing cars that just don't look nice or are they towing cars that do not have valid paperwork?

 

 

“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.” Helen Keller

Ruby Sinreich's picture

See above

I think if you read the beginning of this story including the Police Chief's description, you'll see that the landlord is towing based on an aesthetic judgement of each car. I just can't undestand what would make someone treat people this way, it's totally unconscionable to me.
LMT's picture

I agree, but I wonder why

I agree, but I wonder why the N&O reporter put that line in there then? And the article didn't say whether the residents who had the kid in the car actually had proper registeration and what not. It almost seemed like the reporter was implying that the residents were illegal? Hmmm, partial journalsim? The reader is left not knowing for sure if what the truth is... 

 

“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.” Helen Keller

jstrope's picture

reasoning

Can anyone here comment knowledgably about the proffered reasoning behind this, namely that the parking lots are overcrowded? Are the Abbey Court parking lots chronically overcrowded?

There seems to be a lot of emotion on both sides of this issue and tons of accusations being tossed around and I'm surprised that almost no facts are being presented by either side. I'm very curious if the cars being towed are a) actually owned by on-lease residents or b) being soley judged on aesthetics alone. Do we have an example of a resident who is on the lease and whose car was properly documented and running yet was still removed from this lot based solely on judgments regarding the car's appearance?

Mark Chilton's picture

Carrboro Inspections

Carrboro Inspections investigated the laundry facilities at Abbey Court and found the following problems:  The laundry room has a large amount of lint on the floor.  The water heated needs a protective plate to protect the flame at the base of the unit.  The fresh air vent needs to be cleaned, almost completely blocked.

 

The Inspections Department also inspected the apartment that filed the complaint and found the following problems: 

 

A faucet at the kitchen sink is leaking. 

 

  sink

 

 

The bathroom toilet did not work properly. 

 

 

toilet

 

 

The smoke detector was missing, and

 

 

 

window

 

 

the ground-floor window in the living room needs repair.

Mark Chilton's picture

Yes.

Management has agreed to make the repairs within a week.  The smoke detector was supposed to be installed the same day (and I assume it was).

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