New valet trash service at Valley & Bloom may go against state code
By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
A valet trash service that has residents leaving their garbage in corridors for pickup – like the one in place at the Valley & Bloom apartments – would violate state administrative codes, the Department of Community Affairs told Montclair Local this week.
But a representative for the vendor that contracts with the building’s owner for the service disputes that, saying he doesn’t know of any rules it would be violating.
The service was introduced to be an “invaluable, time-saving” amenity, Emily Copeland, a senior vice president with real estate company LCOR, which manages the building, said.
But it has prompted complaints from residents who say the service has left unsightly garbage cluttering their hallways, and that they’ve been made to pay for an amenity they never wanted.
The service was introduced in November so that residents 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, and Valet Living would pick up the contents.
State administrative code says garbage and refuse must not be set out on stairways or fire escapes or in common hallways in multifamily units. But a representative of the state Department of Community Affairs said when the New Jersey Bureau of Housing Inspection visited the property multiple times over the last several weeks, inspectors didn’t see any garbage left out.
Department of Community Affairs spokesperson Lisa M. Ryan confirmed leaving garbage out in hallways would violate state code, but said an inspector would have to witness a violation to issue a citation.
Copeland hadn’t answered an email Montclair Local sent Jan. 10, asking how many residents were now using the service and seeking comment on Ryan’s description of the state code. But she told Montclair Local in December that the service provider was “in constant contact with state and local fire marshals, and the valet trash amenity service is safe and approved.”
Kevin Schwartz, the director of governmental affairs for Valet Living, said it does not violate any codes in New Jersey.
“We do this nightly at about 7,000 properties in 43 states. I have been with the company since 2017. Other than the requirement to maintain a certain distance of clear egress at all times within an apartment corridor, depending on population, there are no codes, rules, statutes or ordinances of which we are aware that conflict with or prohibit the service, including in New Jersey,” Schwartz said.
Under the service, residents were given a two-hour time window from 7 to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, to put their bins outside. After that, a bin would have to be taken inside a resident’s apartment, or the resident could face a fine or removal of the bin, according to notifications sent out to residents.
At first, management told residents the trash rooms would remain open for those who couldn’t make the two-hour windows, and for those going on vacation, according to texts sent 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 window due to work commitments, commuting or being out to dinner, resident Christen Stevenson said.
Residents who signed up for a concierge building with garbage service didn’t think trash would wind up in the hallway, Dani Powell, who started a petition against the service and a private Facebook page for resident support, said.
The residents filed complaints with township fire code officials, the township Health Department and the New Jersey Bureau of Housing Inspection.
A Dec. 1 inspection by the township's fire official found no fire safety issues, but the resident who complained was given information about contacting the state Housing Inspection office, according to Montclair’s code enforcement office.
The Housing Inspection office had received a complaint from a tenant saying that the management company had instituted a policy directing tenants to leave their garbage in the common hallway to be collected, Ryan said. The bureau inspected the property on Dec. 15 and 21 and Jan. 4, she said.
Powell said that during the Dec. 15 visit, all of the receptacles and trash had been removed by management.
“When the team did the inspection, all trash had been removed, hallways were clean and odorless, and all the trash chutes were unlocked,” Ryan wrote in an email to Montclair Local on Jan. 5.
Although the building was not cited for any garbage violations, the building was cited for carbon monoxide and smoke detector violations. A follow-up inspection is due after March 3, unless the owner requests an extension, Ryan wrote.
In a text sent to residents who questioned where their bins had gone on Dec. 14, management said the service remained but that the bins had been removed to keep them out of the hallways, and that residents could request them back.
Residents also had problems with the two-hour window for trash pickup, some said.
Stevenson said some residents would put their trash out within the period, 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, she said. And the loading dock was loaded with bags as residents tried to dispose of their garbage themselves, she said.
Stevenson said she was embarrassed to invite guests to her apartment.
She said she placed her trash out within the two-hour time slot before she left for an event 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.
And some residents are not happy about the mandatory service at $25 a month, on top of the $500 a year amenity fee they already pay.
Copeland told Montclair Local in December that the service is in addition to the standard trash chutes available on each floor.
“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.
According to Powell, residents at a Dec. 13 meeting were told the reason for the switch was that the trash rooms were becoming unsightly due to residents not using the trash shoots or them becoming clogged, and tenants not placing their recycling in appropriate bins.
“They have taken that problem from a very small area and it’s now up and down the corridor,” Powell said.
Since the visit from the New Jersey Bureau of Housing Inspection, management has promised that the trash room’s 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.
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.
But most are now not using the service, Powell said. A recent walkthrough by a resident of the building with the concierge service resulted in only six bins being left outside of apartments on that night.
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-described “luxury” apartment building once had.
“You solved a problem I didn't have,” one resident wrote in the Facebook community group.