In Thursday's paper, my column laid out the story of Charles Stoddard, first reported by Mark Mulholland at WNYT-TV NewsChannel 13. Mr. Stoddard's estate was billed for more than $3,000 for rent and security deposit on an apartment he never moved into, because he died four days after signing the lease.
That apartment complex, like many others, is owned by Rich Schermerhorn.
Reacting to the column, several people sent me emails that detailed similar tales of what they felt was mean-spirited treatment by Schermerhorn Holdings when they were tenants. They encouraged me to contact them and follow up on my first column.
As part of my reporting on Wednesday, I spoke with Maureen Dennis, an operations manager for Schermerhorn, who told me the business had to handle the Stoddard situation by demanding the rent and taking the security deposit, because that was the law. When I asked if exceptions could be made, she said no.
You have free articles remaining.
Mid-afternoon Wednesday, I left the office for a medical appointment. At about 4 p.m., Dennis sent me an email at work, with a letter attached, which I didn't see until today. The letter was from her, saying she had spoken with Schermerhorn, who was "traveling out of town," and that Stoddard's estate would be issued a full refund. She resent the email to me later Wednesday evening, this time including a couple of other editors, but it came after our deadline for Thursday's paper. Subsequently, News Channel 13 ran the story of Schermerhorn's decision to issue a refund.
So today we have written a follow-up story about the refund. This blog post is meant to expand upon my reporting and its timing.
When Dennis spoke me with Wednesday morning, she was adamant that the company had no other choice but to do what she described as following the law. She also said that the situation had come up before, and the company had handled it the same way. What I wonder now is, has Rich Schermerhorn had a change of heart? Will he change his policy? Or was this reversal a one-off, done in reaction to the bad publicity he was getting?
According to those former tenants who wrote to me, the sort of hard-hearted behavior Schermerhorn was displaying to the Stoddard family, before backtracking, is a pattern for the company, and some of the details they shared are pretty appalling. But I'll have to wait to hear the rest.