Turmoil at senior housing complex

Meadow View residents claim they're being bullied by managers. Managers says it's the other way around.

click to enlarge Turmoil at senior housing complex
Photo by David Blanchette.
Meadow View Landing managers called the police on 85-year-old Nancy Laird when she argued with them about her eviction notice.

Senior citizen residents and the new management of a Springfield west end apartment complex have been at odds for several months over what some residents say is a concerted effort to intimidate them into moving out. The management, however, alleges that the problem is just a handful of residents who don't want change and who are using bullying tactics to get their way.

Meadow View Landing on Montaluma Drive is a three-story, 160-unit apartment complex that was purchased last October by the Highlands Vista Group of Denver, Colorado, which owns similar complexes in several states. Meadow View Landing consists primarily of residents 55 years of age and over, and while the Highlands Vista Group said it intends to keep that demographic when they purchased the complex, as leases have expired the company has begun renting units to younger tenants.

Several of the residents claim that opening up the complex to non-senior citizens has changed the atmosphere and cite an increased police presence, thefts in common areas and a much higher level of comings and goings as proof that things just aren't what they used to be at Meadow View Landing. Some of the residents also say they fear the two on-site managers, while those same managers allege they are being bullied by some of the residents.

The Springfield Police Department responded to the complex 21 times between January 1 and mid-April this year for a variety of issues, including welfare checks, disturbances and follow-up investigations. But it's not always the residents who are calling the police. Meadow View Landing managers called the cops earlier this year on 85-year-old resident Nancy Laird.

"I was arguing with the manager, I was up in her face, and she called the police," Laird said. "When the police came they asked if I was waving my hands around while we were arguing, and I said that if I was, I will take accountability. I was in her space, and I was too close to her face. I'm sure she told the police that I tried to hit her."

click to enlarge Turmoil at senior housing complex
Photo by David Blanchette.
Meadow View Landing is a 160-unit apartment complex on Montaluma Drive in Springfield.

Laird was upset at the time about an issue that was echoed by several other residents. During the past several months those residents say they have had form letters delivered to their doors with the heading "Final Eviction Notice." The letters state that "there is a current delinquent rent amount due" and "you are further notified that payment of said sum is hereby demanded of you" or the resident must "vacate the leased premises." The form letters, several copies of which were obtained by Illinois Times, do not list the name of the resident, the apartment number, the amount past due, or any other identifying information.

"I know I'm not delinquent and I can prove I'm not delinquent," Laird said. "The woman from corporate said she would look into it and I said don't bother, I'm reporting you for elder abuse."

Seventy-eight-year-old resident Linda Hardy had a similar experience.

"I got an eviction notice saying that I hadn't paid my rent, which is $1,080. It turns out they made a mistake and only put $80 on the computer, so I was given 24 hours to vacate," Hardy said. "I went down to the office and I said, 'You have copies of my check right on the desk.'

click to enlarge Turmoil at senior housing complex
Photo by David Blanchette.
Linda Hardy, a 78-year-old Meadow View Landing resident, with the eviction notice she recently received.

"Why would they do that? What's their end game here? Why do they want us out? Do they want to bring somebody else in?" Hardy said. "I told corporate that I dread going to that office again."

John Krews is an 82-year-old resident who has lived at Meadow View Landing for seven years, and he also received one of the "Final Eviction Notice" form letters, even though he had paid his rent.

"I was told the check had been destroyed by the office's check-processing machine. So I went and wrote another check as a replacement for the original, and then I heard that check got destroyed as well," Krews said. "I keep a running notebook every time I deal with the management now because I get one story one time and discover it's different another time."

Seventy-eight-year-old resident Barbara Pitchford hasn't received a rent overdue notice yet, but she's uneasy about the situations her friends and fellow residents have encountered.

"What I'm scared of is the managers down there, they have all of our pertinent information, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, everything about us. They could do a lot of damage to us financially." Pitchford said. "Instead of being professional and treating residents with respect, they've intimidated and aroused people, and we are scared."

Jerry Ceglinski is a 70-year-old resident who has lived at Meadow View Landing for three years and he also received a form letter about overdue rent, which he claimed was due to the office misplacing his check. Ceglinski also started receiving separate bills for utilities, an expense that is supposed to be included in his rent, and got another past-due notice when he did not pay the utility bill.

"I took the bill to the office and they told me to disregard it because it wasn't legal and they assured me they would take care of it. Then two weeks later I got another eviction notice saying I hadn't paid my utility bill so I had to vacate," Ceglinski said. "When I write rent checks I take a picture of my check and a video of it being dropped in the box so I have proof."

Haley Wilson, communications director for the city of Springfield, said, "It is against city code and CWLP policy for landlords to resell, sub-meter or otherwise separately bill tenants for water or electric service." Wilson urged residents to come forward with copies of those bills so the matter could be addressed with the property owner.

Sheryl Stoffregen is the director of regional management for the Highlands Vista Group. She said the company "is not perfect, we do make mistakes," and added that, "Our goal is to help the residents there. We put a lot of money into the property and we've made some good changes there."

click to enlarge Turmoil at senior housing complex
Photo by David Blanchette.
Meadow View Landing resident, 68-year-old Rosanna Pulido, with her file of paperwork that documents the issues she's had with the apartment complex.

Stoffregen said she could not comment on many of the specifics regarding the concerns raised by individual residents, due to landlord-tenant confidentiality laws. But she said some of the confusion over rent payments has to do with funds that were not transferred six months ago when Highlands Vista Group took over Meadow View Landing from the old management company. Stoffregen said that when the company is made aware of mistakes in crediting rent payments, those errors are corrected.

But Stoffregen said a handful of residents "are refusing to pay for whatever reason" and when rent is owed and it is not paid, those residents must be notified in accordance with the Fair Housing Act. The notices that were shown to Illinois Times are not eviction notices despite their heading, she said, because an eviction notice is a legal document with the apartment number and the resident's full name listed, and "I don't have any evictions filed on that property."

The main problem is "six or fewer residents that are really adamant that we need to terminate our manager, and they did the same thing with our past manager," Stoffregen said. "Are you going to report the blatant racism that's been shown to my employees at that property?"

Stoffregen said the first manager hired by her firm for Meadow View Landing was a Black man and, "They harassed him from the day he walked on that property. They said they were scared of him." When the next manager, a Black woman, was hired, "The same thing happened, they're scared of her," Stoffregen said. "When I asked why they were scared, they told me they didn't like the way she looked at them."

Stoffregen said the residents have posted personal information about the former and current managers in common areas of the complex, including "false accusations" about their backgrounds, and have shared images of the managers, without their permission, as the managers have performed their daily tasks at the complex. The residents interviewed for this story gave Illinois Times a copy of one such posting that purports to show the background of a current manager.

"They first started calling and telling me that my manager and assistant manager, who are both Black, were mother and daughter, which is not true," Stoffregen said. "Then they told me my regional manager was the sister of the manager and assistant manager. She's from Atlanta, she has no relatives in Springfield. The only reason they think she's their sister is because she's Black."

"They're literally harassing my manager eight hours a day that she's on that property," Stoffregen said. "It seems unfair that somebody can get by with doing that."

Stoffregen shared a note she received from a Meadow View Landing resident, who asked to remain anonymous for this story, about the situation in the building: "The apartments that are causing major issues are bullies in the building and run over everyone. Why can't Tonya (the manager) and Octavia (the assistant manager) do their office jobs without the tattletales? Pay your rent, mind your business, let the managers manage the building, not the people. We are begging you to stop this."

click to enlarge Turmoil at senior housing complex
Photo by David Blanchette.
One of the generic notices that several Meadow View Landing residents have recently received.

Meanwhile, Stoffregen said there are no such issues at Meadow View Place, an adjacent apartment complex that Highlands Vista Group purchased at the same time as Meadow View Landing.

Rosanna Pulido (See "The Anti-Welcome Lady," April 5, 2018 Illinois Times.), is a 68-year-old Meadow View Landing resident who selected the complex because "it was peaceful and I chose to live around seniors because we're all on the same page," she said. "I wanted a place where I felt safe and secure. Most of us are paying nearly $1,000 in rent, so we are not charity cases. I must give customer service where I work or I'm going to be out the door."

Pulido, a frequent and vocal participant in Springfield City Council meetings, has brought her concerns about Meadow View Landing to city officials, including Ward 7 Alderman Brad Carlson.

"I'm concerned about the situation because I think people need to have a safe environment to live. Nobody should wake up in the morning and go to bed at night concerned about what's going to happen the next day," Carlson said. "I had a productive meeting with the on-site manager to hear her side of the story. We both agreed to communicate back-and-forth when we hear different concerns or issues from the residents."

The city's Office of Community Relations "has investigated the situation developing at Meadow View Landing to gain a comprehensive understanding of the concerns of residents," said Wilson, the city spokesperson.

Regardless of which side in the Meadow View Landing situation the city and the public believe, resident Barbara Pitchford said people should pay attention to what is going on at the complex.

"The people that live around here on the west side of town in their nice houses, their property values will go down because of this," Pitchford said. "I love the location, I would still like to be here for the rest of my life, but things are making me kind of nervous about staying here."

David Blanchette

David Blanchette has been involved in journalism since 1979, first as an award-winning broadcaster, then a state government spokesperson, and now as a freelance writer and photographer. He was involved in the development of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and more recently the Jacksonville...

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