It might be easy to understand why Roger Spool was displeased to learn about an article in the May 25 issue of this paper that included Spool’s name. “Absentee landlords accused of ruining New Paltz neighborhood” described complaints by some Cherry Hill residents about the impact of some rental properties on that neighborhood. One of those residents, Matt Pilek, displayed two images of what seemed to be the same house, and which Pilek described as a picture from the listing when the building was last up for sale a decade ago, and a recent one to show a decline in condition. The images shown underneath text that read “11 Cicero Avenue — non-owner occupied rental, enforcement issues,” and 11 Cicero Avenue is owned by Roger Spool.
The problem Spool has is that the images under what appeared to be a label of “11 Cicero” were of 6 Howard Street, which is not owned by Spool at all. Now a full-time Florida resident, Spool apparently does not subscribe to Hudson Valley One, and had to be notified by local friends about the article. In that meeting coverage, this reporter documented using public land records to determine that Spool owns 11 Cicero Avenue, as well as unsuccessful efforts to locate a current phone number for Spool in order to obtain comment. Spool’s name did not appear on the portion of Pilek’s screen that was displayed, nor did Pilek utter any name or property address while speaking.
Speaking at the June 2 meeting, Spool described the presentation as “confusing,” because Pilek lives directly across from 11 Cicero, and presumably knows what that building looks like. Successfully reached for comment after that meeting, Pilek said that the intent was only to display the images of 6 Howard Street — owned by Anthony Luxor of Brooklyn — which was part of a larger document of rental properties in Cherry Hill, with pictures of each and the address beneath. The text that was visible, “11 Cicero Avenue — non-owner occupied rental, enforcement issues,” was not something that Pilek was aware had been visible during the meeting.
In the aforementioned article was also a note that, in the past, Spool has assumed the designation of “model landlord.” In the context of this incorrect conflation of images and caption, Spool characterized the wording as mockery, and went on to opine that it “made it seem that this property represents others.” The landlord also complained that this reporter failed in performing due diligence to contact Spool, while at the same time admitting to no longer having any local phone number. Among the claims made was that Spool’s contact information could easily be obtained by contacting either the assessor or a building inspector for the town.
Asked about the availability of property owner phone numbers through town offices, Supervisor Neil Bettez responded, “I am not sure everything said during public comment is accurate.”
Building inspector Stacy Delarede confirmed that “it is not policy . . . to give out personal phone numbers.”
Spool feels that this incident taints a reputation that justifies that “model landlord” label, and fellow landlord Maggie Veve agreed. Veve said that Spool “over-invests in houses,” and described being “shocked” by the attribution.
Pilek, who does live across from a Spool-owned rental, does not entirely agree. While 11 Cicero is not the worst problem in Cherry Hill, Pilek’s document did have “non-owner occupied rental, enforcement issues” associated with Spool’s rental property with reason. The larger presentation was about the difficulty getting issues such as parking and trash under control when there is no way to contact the property owner, and Pilek also doesn’t have a phone number for Roger Spool despite having lived across from Spool’s property for ten years. Spool claimed during the meeting to have “full coverage all year” despite having relocated out of state, but Pilek describes regularly having to pick up trash generated at that rental house, and how trying to address it through tenants is not as effective as through the owner. “I think the first step to being a ‘model landlord’ is to introduce yourself,” Pilek observed.
Veve also questioned the appropriateness of allowing someone to display images as Pilek did, but Bettez pointed out this is not something unique to virtual meetings; anyone showing up in person could just as easily show an image. There is also no reasonable expectation that any information shared by a member of the public during a meeting has been verified, the supervisor pointed out. Spool displayed a picture of a home while commenting, Bettez noted, and council members could only take Spool’s word that it was one of 11 Cicero Avenue. “[I’m] sorry it was the wrong address, but if we were in person, then all we could do is look away.”
Bettez did suggest one option: limiting public comment to agenda items only, rather than allow it to be on any topic. No member of the town council or the public suggested taking that step.