How do some condo buildings reward long-time, faithful owners? If you live at Preston Tower on Northwest Highway, and if you can believe the pleadings in a recently filed lawsuit, they reward you by confiscating the $150,000 concert grand piano you utilize to give music lessons — because of city code changes. Yikes.
A lawsuit was filed on November 12, 2019, seeking declaratory judgment against Preston Tower Condominiums Association, Intercity Investments Inc. (building management company otherwise known as ICI), WD Piano Movers Inc., and American Eagle Elevator LLC, by Robert Marcus, the former owner of Preston Tower unit 2900 and also a current tenant in the building. Marcus, who is now leasing at Preston Tower, seeks between $200,000 and $1,000,000 in judgments on the 10-count suit.
In a nutshell:
Marcus owned unit 2900 for 30 years. Back in 1996, he had a grand piano delivered to his home. When he sold his unit in September 2018, he moved down to the second floor of Preston Tower as a tenant. But he had difficulty securing a mover who would relocate the piano. Since the move was back-to-back and a new owner was moving in his old unit, the piano was stored on its side in the hallway while Marcus arranged for the move.
But after waiting six weeks, which included a seven-day warning from management to move it (by October 18, 2018) or lose it, the Preston Tower HOA moved the piano to storage.
But you know there’s more to it than that, right? Right…
The piano in question is a Steinway Model D Concert Grand that you can purchase for something north of $155,000. For reference, before sale, unit 2900 was listed for $349,000. The model has been made since 1880, with one residing in the White House. In addition to being highly valuable, it’s big – essentially 9-feet by 5-feet and weighs over 1,000 pounds.
Befitting the size of the piano, the court filing is 140 pages long.
There was an abundance of communication between Marcus, building manager Rob Kennehan from ICI, and the HOA board president Jeff Shaw detailing the difficulty in securing a company to move the piano. Well before the sale of unit 2900, Marcus contacted the same movers who installed the piano back in 1996. Back then, it rode on top of the elevator. But this time it was said that moving the piano on top of the elevator was against building regulations. That crossed Steinway and Metroplex Piano off the piano movers list.
Throughout this time, Marcus would contact moving companies from Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and even New York, to move the piano. He claims in the suit that some of these arrangements were interfered with by WD Piano Movers.
Marcus even explored a freight helicopter and a crane.
I think that his efforts are an important point. It’s not like he left the piano in the hall like a sock in the laundry room. It was very expensive, very large, and Dallas city code had changed in 2005 barring the use of the top-of-the-elevator method that got it up there a decade prior. What was the man to do?
Yet in their responses, the Preston Tower HOA claimed the baby grand was “abandoned” – by a long-time resident still living in the building.
Some of the time lag can, however, apparently be attributed to excessive delays or total lack of communication. For instance, in Preston Tower HOA president Jeff Shaw’s deposition, it seems once Marcus became a tenant rather than an owner, his status for receiving communications changed:
“Shaw testified that because Marcus was now a renter, Shaw was not required to respond to Marcus’ email and that ‘[he] owed him nothing.’”
Question. Could you have responded to Mr. Marcus and stated, you know, as you are no longer a — an owner in this building, you should direct your correspondence to, and then point him to the appropriate person?
Answer. Oh, I could have, yes.
Question. (BY MS. ALSTRIN) Okay. Is there a reason you didn’t do that?
Answer. I didn’t think it was worthwhile.
Question. Okay. It isn’t worthwhile to take the time to write that e-mail to him?
Answer. Look, he’s a grown man, and I can’t help him.
Answer. So you know what I mean?
Question. Okay. Well, certainly, you as a board member could have granted him an extension, that would have helped him, wouldn’t it?
Answer. I don’t know.
It’s a callous set of responses to a resident-owner of 30 years.
Another important note seems to be that during this same time there was a second piano being stored in the 29th-floor hallway while that unit was being renovated. According to the suit, it wasn’t hauled away nor was the owner apparently fined – although it was cited by the Dallas Fire Department
So with the October 18 deadline passed, unbeknownst to Marcus, Preston Tower HOA contracted WD Piano Movers to remove the piano on October 19. They didn’t move it to Marcus’ second-floor unit and send him a bill. Instead, they moved it offsite to an undisclosed warehouse where Marcus was initially barred from inspecting his piano and its condition.
After a few months (and some court action) the piano was removed from WD Piano’s warehouse and placed in a mutually-agreed warehouse while legal action has played out. Once Marcus was able to have the piano inspected for move-related damage, he was told the repair damage bill was $7,144.50.
Meanwhile, Preston Tower was saying the piano was legally theirs.
Some in the building have even questioned why the HOA paid for the removal and didn’t donate just Marcus’s piano instead to charity, ostensibly to save moving costs.
In an October 11 email from HOA board member Robin Kyle to other board members and Ron Kennehan:
“Also. I have been asked by some homweowners (sic), why did we pay to move the piano rather than just offering it to a company/charity that would haul it off at no charge to us?”
However, two days prior to the removal, a potential solution appeared available: apparently another Preston Tower resident was willing to keep the baby grand in their unit.
On October 17, board member Angela Jeffrey asked, “Why not let Marcus store the piano with the resident who wanted it? Marcus could pay the resident and buy whatever time he needs. I don’t mean to sound soft, but there is a willing person who would like to have it.”
I’m sure by now you’re wondering how the HOA got the piano moved when Marcus couldn’t. According to sources inside the building, WD Movers were given the option of using the freight elevator to move the piano. That option was not given to other movers, the source alleged.
In reading the lawsuit, all I can say is that considerable bad blood grew between Marcus and WD Piano Movers. It’s complicated, and due partly to Marcus seeking other movers, claiming that WD Piano called these other movers and basically tried to torpedo the job, claiming it was theirs.
Meanwhile, the day before the piano was removed, Marcus met with two movers, building management and elevator technicians. Marcus claims that unbeknownst to him, building management arranged meetings with all these parties prior to his meetings, telling them the baby grand had to be out that very day. Neither would obviously commit to that as they were only there to evaluate the move and Preston Tower’s HOA was unwilling to grant any extension.
Marcus’ suit claims a “loss of value of the stolen property, loss of use of the stolen property, and loss of profits from the stolen property.” Marcus teaches piano in his home.
It’s been over a year, and the piano is still locked away in storage.
Certainly, when looking to purchase in any HOA-run community (single-family or multi-family), buyers should investigate and research the building’s litigious history and the substance of any lawsuits. Every HOA will get sued, and some are bogus, though many have merit.
In every case, the courts decide.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.