Noah Enjalran wants to push his scooter and squish bugs in the courtyard of his apartment complex. Under rules imposed by a new sheriff on the block, that’ll cost him a $100 fine.
Noah, who’s 7, and his parents, Aviva Luria and Matthew Enjalran (pictured), live at the Westville Village Apartments, a 294-unit apartment complex at 400 Blake St.
The gated community is entering the latest round of attempted rebirth. Built in 2007 on an old factory site in the shadow of West Rock, the original “Wintergreen of Westville” became known as “Animal House” for rowdy student behavior. After it fell into foreclosure, a Long Island real estate company and Singapore’s largest private bank joined forces in 2012 and bought the complex for $41.65 million. The owner, UOB Eagle Rock Multifamily Property Fund LP, also manages the property through an associated company.
Last October, Eagle Rock hired a new property manager, Kevin Reid, to get a handle on long-running noise complaints and clean up the complex. Reid set new expectations for the complex, and raised the fine for violating the rules from $25 to $100. He started fining people for leaving garbage around, for being loud, and for driving their cars the wrong way through a parking-garage exit. Last week, Reid sent an email to tenants announcing that children may not “play, ride bikes, trikes, etc.” in the complex’s inner courtyard. Anyone who did so will face a $100 fine, he wrote.
Luria and Enjalran stopped letting Noah play there. They are protesting the rule, which they believe is illegal.
Noah said he “hates” the new prohibition. “It’s an open space,” he protested. “It’s like, c’mon, why? That’s totally unfair.”
Reid said the ban came in response to four complaints that kids were getting noisy, and getting in the way while wheeling around the courtyard.
“I’m strict and I tick people off,” Reid acknowledged. But “the reason I’m strict is to make this the very best place for everybody.”
In just over seven months, Reid (pictured) has issued tenants nine $100 fines for being noisy, eight $100 fines for failing to send garbage down building’s trash chutes, and eight $100 fines for driving into a one-way exit at the parking garage. And he imposed a 10 p.m. curfew, after which tenants are not allowed to hang out in the courtyard. He said his get-strict mission has made the complex cleaner, quieter and more orderly.
“I’m thrilled with the direction the property has gone in seven-and-a-half short months,” he said.
Meanwhile, Luria and Enjalran plan to move out in August. The couple moved to the complex last June from West Haven to be closer to their jobs at Yale and Southern Connecticut State University, and in search of relief from the stresses of homeownership. They say the threat of being fined for various behaviors—combined with copious emails with capital-letter warnings like, “WE ARE WATCHING”—have created an uncomfortable environment.
“I feel like I live in a prison camp,” said Luria. “It’s supposed to be a luxury apartment complex.”
“I feel as though if I step out of line, I’m going to get shouted at and fined a hundred dollars,” she said.
Rents at the complex range from $1,250 for a one-bedroom to $1,980 for a three-bedroom apartment.
The dispute marks the latest chapter in a continual effort to maintain order, keep apartments occupied, and balance the needs of student tenants and their working neighbors, many of whom have families and high-paying jobs. The original developers got city permission to build the complex by promising to rent upscale apartments to adults. Then, after they had trouble filling leases, they let in a lot of students from Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) and the University of New Haven (UNH). The place became rowdy—so much so that an assistant police chief who moved there quickly moved out.
The complex is now home to a lot of international UNH students, many of them from Saudi Arabia. Professors, doctors and lawyers have also moved in. Reid said he is doing his best to ensure peace for each group by quelling noise from both late-night student parties and daytime children’s play.
New Sheriff In Town
Reid, who has managed properties for 17 years, said he has gained a reputation as a guy who can come in and clean up problem properties. He said when he took the job last October, the level of noise in the complex ranked as a 9 or 10 out of 10.
“People were walking through the hallways at night, laughing, cutting up,” he said. Students would “come home drunk, swearing and yelling and piggy-backing” in common areas. “People were like, ‘I’m trying to sleep!’”
Reid raised the fine for violating the lease from $25 to $100 and sent out lots of emails warning tenants about violating the rules. The emails include lots of capital-letter warnings, such as: “if you continue on the same path that you are on, you WILL be CAUGHT…......you WILL be EVICTED and you WILL be CHARGED with the necessary Fines, Attorney’s Fees and whatever else applies.” Ignoring the emails “IS TO YOUR OWN DETRIMENT AS I AM READY TO START CLEANING HOUSE OF ANY AND ALL PROBLEMS,” Reid warned in another email.
Reid brought in two live-in security guards to handle late-night complaints and fined students for being loud at night. He said his efforts have reduced noise to a 3 out of 10.
Then, last week, he turned his attention to a new type of noise—noise coming from children.
Noah used to play in the courtyard from time to time, throwing around a nerf ball with his mom or dad or riding a (motorless, leg-powered) scooter.
He said he also likes to “squish the little bugs” in the courtyard, the tiny red ones.
Then, on May 27, Reid sent an email to tenants announcing a ban on children playing in the courtyard.
“It has come to Management’s attention that some Residents are taking their Minor Residents onto the Courtyard areas to play, ride bikes, trikes, etc.,” the email reads. “This is not allowed and is considered a Breach Of The Lease Agreement. Also, there is a $100.00 Fine per occurrence as with any Lease Violations.”
“This is very disruptive to the Community as a whole and we must be considerate of each other. There is a park directly across the street which you may take individuals over to play, ride bikes, etc. Also, the Insurance Company will not allow this,” Reid wrote.
Luria bristled at the email.
“This was the first time my husband and I saw anything about this new policy that children cannot play in the courtyard,” she said.
“Grownups get to play here. Why can’t kids?” Noah protested. “Kevin has to work on his equal rights.”
Luria argued that the rule is ill-defined—what does “play” mean?—as well as harsh and possibly illegal. She checked with a lawyer. The lawyer opined that a landlord cannot make such a significant change to a lease without written consent of the tenant.
The lawyer cited Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 47a-9, which states that landlords may amend a lease to introduce a new rule, but “If a rule or regulation that would result in a substantial modification of the terms of the rental agreement is adopted after the tenant enters into the rental agreement, such rule or regulation is not valid unless the tenant consents to such rule or regulation in writing.”
Reid disagreed with the legal opinion.
“It is the Landlord’s right to amend the Lease Agreement whenever necessary,” he wrote in an email. “That has been done and you have been notified in writing of this amendment. The resident does not have to agree. This is an Apartment Community not a Condominium. The rules are set by the Landlord. Again, there is nowhere in the lease that states that it is alright for anyone to ride bikes, trikes, play, etc. in the courtyard area or anywhere in the Community for that matter.”
Reid said he hasn’t issued any fines for scofflaw scooter-riding or any other illicit play.
Besides being possibly illegal, Luria said the new prohibition is unwelcoming to children. She said the complex has lots of children who play peacefully in the courtyard. That’s part of what makes it a good community, she said. One day, she was returning home with her son and saw a group of parents and kids holding some kind of party. It turned out they were celebrating the Muslim holiday Eid. Two kids ran up to her son and offered a plate of food.
“They are nice kids” in the complex, she said. “It’s not a matter of kids throwing rocks at windows.”
When Eagle Rock took over the complex, partner Rishi Gupta told the Independent his company aimed to make the courtyard more “child-friendly” by adding improvements such as a children’s play area, some gazebos, or more benches. Luria said when she moved in, the owners also discussed the potential of adding a playground somewhere on the property.
Reid said Eagle Rock never promised a playground. And he said he has received no other complaints about the courtyard playing ban.
Meanwhile, a couple of tenants frowned on the new restriction.
“I think kids should be allowed to play in the courtyard,” said Jamaal Rehman, a doctor who just moved to the complex a few days prior from New York. He said he doesn’t have kids, but he doesn’t have a problem with kids playing.
“It makes me happy when I see children playing,” said another tenant named Fahd, a student at the University of New Haven. He said he has never been fined by Reid, but his friends have. He finds the rule-enforcement to be overly strict: “If the noise was just a little bit high, he just fined them.”
Reid said he can’t please everybody. He said his stern warnings and strict enforcement has led to compliance: He hasn’t had to fine anyone in two months.
Sgt. Renee Forte, the neighborhood’s top cop, said the complex has been quiet: “I can’t remember the last time I had to handle an issue over there based on noise.”
Meanwhile, Reid has poured in thousands of dollars to renovate the complex. He said his company spent close to $100,000 repainting doors and hallways that had been scuffed up. It’s spending another $30,000 to replace old concrete in the courtyard, which was under way on Wednesday.
And it’s spending $7,000 on new equipment in the complex’s gym.
He said the complex is 99-percent rented, which “speaks volumes” to the satisfaction of the tenants.
“I will say, proudly, that I have more residents who are staying and are thrilled than are moving out.”
Reid said he knows some people may take issue with his decisions, but “everybody has the right to peace and quiet.”