Cleaning House Suits claim a local realty company is fleecing former renters, many of them recent University of Hartford grads
March 03, 2009
Kathleen Tomasello thought there was something fishy last year about the $4,025 in damages a property management company claimed her son Thomas and his roommate caused to their apartment at 711 Farmington Ave.
Thomas Tomasello, a graduating senior at the University of Hartford, shared Apartment B-5 with Peter Broughal, another UH senior who had been in the apartment for two years.
"I personally cleaned that kitchen, I wiped the inside and outside of the cabinets, I cleaned the refrigerator like it was mine at home," said Kathleen Tomasello from her home in Lynbrook, N.Y. on Monday. "I washed all the window sills, we vacuumed the apartment, we cleaned the bathrooms."
So Mrs. Tomasello took it personally when a Sept. 29, 2008 letter from Hartford's Intertown Realty Company, the property manager, claimed the kitchen and bathrooms needed to be cleaned. The letter also claimed that 114 yards of carpet had to be replaced and that painting was required because of "large gouge marks" and "various other nail holes and tack marks within the apartment."
And finally, the letter stated that Intertown Realty had been required to remove some items left behind and "properly dispose of them." The $200 the Tomasellos offered to take care of any problems would not do.
Instead, Intertown said it would be keeping the Tomasello's $2,540 security deposit, and there would be an additional payment of $1,200 required to settle matters. A $285 credit on the ledger made up the difference between the $3,740 Intertown was demanding and the $4,025 in damages the company claimed.
Those items left behind, said Kathleen Tomasello, belonged to Broughal, and included a computer and a fan that Broughal's father offered to maintenance workers in the building, who gladly accepted it. As for the rug, Tomasello said it was of low quality, at least three years old, and hardly in great shape to begin with. She said her son did damage the ceiling when removing a mattress, but she believed $500 would have covered the carpet cleaning and ceiling repair. "They're trying to tell us it's a $3,000 rug," she said. "Ridiculous."
Still Kathleen Tomasello was ready to cut their losses rather than hiring an attorney to fight Intertown. But her husband Joseph thought differently.
"He was just so annoyed that they were getting away with this," she said.
Hartford attorney Matt Costello said he found something very familiar about the Tomasello case when he took it late last year. In 2007, he had represented another University of Hartford senior who also lived at 711 Farmington and who also was accused of causing damages in the vicinity of $4,000. That case went to trial where Costello says Intertown was unable to produce proof of the damages they were claiming.
In the Tomasello case, Intertown has yet to sue, but has kept the security deposit. Costello said he'll be going to small claims court in an attempt to get that money returned, and will defend the Tomasellos if Intertown does sue.
"I think they recognize they have another problem with proof," said Costello. "Right now we're in limbo."
Intertown denied Costello's allegations.
Research by Costello's assistant, Toni Stever, showed from April 1996 to April 2008 Intertown filed suit against 93 former tenants for damages, winning judgments in 76 cases, 42 by default when the defendants failed to answer. During the same time period, from August 1996 to August 2008, 33 former tenants sued Intertown to get their security deposits back, winning judgments in 24 cases. Costello believes it's no coincidence that many of the renters involved were graduating University of Hartford students from out of state.
"These kids are in a transitional time of their lives," said Costello. "The last thing they want to do is come back to Connecticut to fight a court case. It's a very good racket."