Preston Tower Sued For Absconding With Longtime Resident’s Grand Piano

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.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been alerted to lawsuits at Preston Tower, by the way. See previous instances here, here, and here.

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.

Question. Okay.

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.

One of several dents, scratches, and scrapes

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 sharewithjon@candysdirt.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.

9 Comment

  • The Preston Tower board is sneaky and unbending. Their past behaviors are proof of their mindset that they know best and are always right. Do the other residents know that whatever the board decides puts them at risk of liability? I think that the long time resident could get many neighboring building residents to testify to those behaviors under oath!

  • Can we talk? The dynamics of this “Property Manager,” the board and the homeowners is reportedly very “unorthodox” and has been for some time! When I looked at a unit there about 15 years ago (2004), I found a flyer from one of the board members that had been slipped under the door soliciting “men” to join the organizing “Men’s Auxiliary” to provide armed protection to the building in the event of a 911 type of attack! A couple of years ago, the Board hired a new management company only to suddenly cancel the new contract a few days later and stay with ICI. With this senseless conflict that will benefit no one but lawyers, It seems this building continues to be right out of Melrose Place! Where are the grown-ups?

  • for anyone who lives there….trying to sell…who in their right mind would want to buy there? the board is diminishing values!

  • The reporter of this story is rarely favorably disposed to the Boards of condos behind the Pink Wall, although he is usually sympathetic to residents who file suit against their HOAs when decisions about issues and grievances aren’t settled as they’d like. As another commenter noted, legal conflicts are expensive for HOAs — but the duty of the Board is to act in the Association’s best interest, which is not always (not usually) that of the complainant. Robert Marcus’ ineffectual attempts to move his property are sad, but his inability and his abandoned piano became annoyances to neighbors, forcing management and the Board to act in the interest of the Association overall. It is they who have the sympathy of this veteran of that building’s volunteer Board, which in recent years has had to devote too much of its time to warding off, or caving in to, cash grabs by clients of a couple of attorneys. (And that source inside Preston Tower ought to know that the building has no freight elevator, only a standard elevator designated for moves, which would have been available to any mover who agreed to remove the piano.)

    • mm

      Dear Battle-Scarred,
      Rest assured that CandysDirt.com will be expanding its reporting of HOA Boards ACROSS THE CITY in 2020. We may even RATE them! I have a few choice tales in my pocket from other buildings besides PT.But just to pique my interest: why was the homeowner who remodelled allowed to keep their baby grand in the hallway, while Robert Marcus was not? And while the Board must act in the Association’s best interest, does that not also include being a good steward of Association funds?

      • Dear Battle Scarred – understood and clearly you a board member. However, yes, it is the duty of the board to act in the best interest of the Association and we will see how this current lawsuit as well as the other lawsuits (2 others currently) are ruled. Acting in the best interest of the association does not mean lying (and not responding to communication, Jeff Shaw President) which is what current and past boards at PT have done. In the past 6 years; there have been 6 lawsuits at Preston Tower and the association has not won one of those suits. You should ask yourselves why?

      • Amen! An HOA suing its members (all neighbors) is seldom a winner. Candy is right….there are great HOA boards and there are horrible ones. Having spent 4 years as President of a Turtle Creek HOA I can tell you it’s thankless work. I always believed my first obligation was to keep peace in the community and always be the calm level head whenever there was a conflict. When you share floors, ceilings and walls, there will always be conflicts and a well written, reasonable set of documents keeps everyone friendly. The conflicts usually occur when someone doesn’t want the documents to apply to them…..they do! I don’t know all the issues surrounding the piano case but I assure you the HOA shouldn’t want to take someone’s property…..it will immediately divide the community. Preston Tower does not sell well already due to years of deferred maintenance….just watch how this episode hurts every homeowner in that building.

  • Reading this story I would love to be on the jury deliberating this case. It is so unbelievable that the board would move the piano out of the building at their cost and not collaborate with the person desperate to get it to moved it to their unit and who can obviously afford to pay for the move. What the heck. Someone is really vindictive or not very smart or both. I hope this works out for Mr. Marcus to get restitution for this.

  • It’s not surprising in that building from what I’ve heard. Their board is very vindictive and a bunch of liars. Just look at the previous lawsuits they have lost.