He's out: Newark man comes home to empty apartment

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on November 04, 2014

Elaine Ellsberry, the acting president of the tenant association, stands outside of the Colonnade apartment building in Newark. Naren Thurairatnum, a resident at the Colonnade apartment building had his belongings thrown out by management because they thought he was moving out. Thurairatnum never said he was moving out. Tenant leaders are upset about what happened.

 

He didn’t think anything was wrong when his security access card to the front door of his Newark apartment building wouldn’t work.

It had malfunctioned in the past, but Naren Thurairatnum says the glitch was never enough of a problem to make him worry about living at the Colonnade, a downtown highrise overlooking Branch Brook Park.

In hindsight, it probably should have tipped him off that something wasn’t right, which is what Thurairatnum discovered after eventually getting into the building and opening the door to his fifth-floor apartment on Oct. 17.

The place was empty, except for some paint cans and brushes that somebody left behind.

“Everything is gone,’’ he says.

Thurairatnum didn’t know what to think as he walked inside the apartment, having returned from a three-day trip to Buffalo. He’s single, 47 years old and didn’t own much. But the little he had was his and it was gone.

The food in his cabinets and refrigerator. The small dining room table and chairs. Plates and knives, forks and spoons, glasses, pots, pans.

In his bedroom, the laptop was missing, so was a huge bucket of spare change he saved over the years.

Clothes and shoes were gone from the closet. A picture of his parents that had been hanging on the wall was nowhere to be found. Also missing were important documents, including his passport, tax returns and naturalization papers from when he became a citizen in 1998. His credit card and certificates of achievement in computer programming were not there either.

The living room furniture had belonged to a friend, who took it with him when he moved out a week earlier, on Oct. 12. Thurairatnum didn’t have a mattress because he was about to buy a new one. That wouldn’t have mattered, though. The bed frame had been removed, too.

“Who would do such a thing?’’ he wondered.

Surely, he thought, he had been robbed.

Thurairatnum sought out a maintenance man, who told him to contact the office manager the next day, which was a Saturday.

But Thurairatnum was still confused about what happened, especially when he opened his mailbox that night. There was a notice from Kettler Management, the McLean, Va.-based manager of the property, indicating that Thurairatnum had moved out on Oct. 14.

That couldn’t be, he says, because he was out of town. The notice also listed charges totaling $2,572 for cleaning the apartment, not returning keys, nonpayment of rent for October and so on.

He met property manager Tawanda Mosley the next day to find what was going on. Kyle Screen, an aide to Central Ward Councilman Gayle Chaneyfield-Jenkins, was there. Screen is also the tenant president at Pavilion Apartments, another building managed by Kettler, which is down the street from the Colonnade.

The two said Mosley indicated she had Thurairatnum’s belongings removed because she believed he told a security guard that he was moving when the guard saw him taking the living room furniture out of the building on Oct. 12.

That was a Sunday, two days before his Buffalo trip.

But Thurairatnum says he never told security that he was moving and that management never contacted him to verify if that was true. He also said his lease requires him to give notice in writing, which he didn’t do, because he wasn’t moving.

Thurairatnum also says he explained to the security guard that he was only going out of town and that the furniture he was helping to move belongs to a friend, who had been staying with him.

When the security guard saw them taking the furniture out, Thurairatnum says the guard told them to stop because they didn’t have a moving pass. By then, they had moved the majority of the furniture, but he says the guard told them they had to get a moving pass the following Tuesday, Oct. 14, when the management office reopened. (It was closed that Monday, Oct. 13, for the Columbus Day holiday.)

Thurairatnum, however, wasn’t going to be there when the office reopened. Remember, he was leaving for Buffalo.

In the meeting with Mosley, Screen says, she showed them pictures she had taken of his apartment, which appeared empty.

And that’s all she used, plus the word of a security guard, in her decision to toss what few possessions Thurairatnum had into the trash.

No call, no text message, nothing to find out for certain if he had left.

Kettler officials are not talking. They declined to explain the protocols – for tenants and management – when someone moves out.

They wouldn’t say why Mosley didn’t at least call Thurairatnum, instead of relying on pictures and the word of a security guard. And they also would not say why she didn’t store his belongings temporarily.

“We are unable to provide comments at this time, in regards to the above-referenced matter, due to the fact that this case is currently in litigation,’’said Coco Lyons, director of marketing and public relations for Kettler.

Thurairatnum hasn’t filed a lawsuit, but he did consult an attorney, whom he says told him that he has a case. Another lawyer had told him earlier that he likely wouldn't be successful pursuing a claim because he didn't have pictures of his belongings in the apartment to support such a claim.

Amazing, right?

You come back from a trip to find that your apartment has been emptied and your stuff has been tossed into a trash bin – and there may be nothing you can do about it.

Matt Shapiro, president of the New Jersey Tenant Organization, calls actions of Kettler, the property manager, criminal theft and a violation of two specific requirements in state law that spell out when a landlord can enter an apartment.

One is through an eviction and the other is if the tenant has given notice in writing that he or she is leaving.

“There are no exceptions,’’ Shapiro says. “They had no right to come in and touch his property without one or two of the conditions being met. The guy wasn’t evicted and he didn’t give notice. They are in the wrong and they should be doing everything in their power to make it right.’’

Elaine Ellsberry, acting tenant president at the Colonnade, agrees with Shapiro, describing the scenario as “bizarre.’’ She is incredulous that management took such action.

Ellsberry even questioned the accuracy of the apartment photographs — and what they didn't show — when Mosley presented them as evidence that Thurairatnum had moved out.

“Who moves out and leaves a laptop? She (Mosley) could have taken the pictures after everything was gone,’’ Ellsberry says.

Chaneyfield-Jenkins weighed in, too, saying her constituent was the victim of an unauthorized eviction.

“Building owners and management companies need to know that tenant mistreatment is on my radar and will not be tolerated,’’ she says.

Thurairatnum has been staying with a friend as he figures out his next move. He doesn’t want to live at the Colonnade anymore, thinking he would not be safe.

“I’m embarrassed and humiliated,’’ he says. “I try to calm my mind, but the same thought goes around and around. The things I lost and how am I going to get it back.’’

He thought about just walking away at first, but decided to fight for what's right after talking further with tenant leaders.

"They have to tell the reason about what went on in their mind,'' he said. "Who would do this kind of thing?"

He hasn't paid October rent yet or the late fee and legal fees imposed by management. The other fees, he said, have been waived.

You’d think somebody would have apologized by now.

Think again. It hasn’t happened, and it probably won’t.

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