Furniture sparks Melrose lawsuit; some tenants upset

Jens Krogstad

Contract Furniture Industries, based in Memphis, Tenn., is suing The Melrose apartments and its partner, Integroup Minneapolis, for breach of contract, alleging that the apartment complex did not pay for furniture it ordered.

The suit, which was filed June 16 in federal district court, seeks more than half a million dollars in damages. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.

The Melrose signed a $1.5 million contract with the furniture company in March 2002 to furnish the apartment complex.

According to Contract Furniture’s complaint, the furniture – nearly 7,000 pieces in all – was to be delivered in two shipments. The first delivery was to be on July 15, 2002, and the second on Nov. 15, 2002.

The suit alleges that Contract Furniture’s first delivery was delayed because construction on the complex was behind schedule. Before the second delivery took place, The Melrose and Integroup were purchased by Prudential Insurance Company. This led to significant turnover in the companies’ personnel, and the new management declined to accept the second shipment when Contract Furniture attempted to deliver it.

Integroup Minneapolis’ Co-Chief Economic Officer Mark Harries said he was unaware of the suit on Thursday. He said he had no comment, other than that all furniture at the apartments has been paid for by The Melrose.

The furniture company claims in its lawsuit that it became “apparent that (The Melrose’s) actual complaint was that they did not like the furniture that had been ordered and agreed upon.”

Steve Little, an attorney representing Contract Furniture, said The Melrose decided to buy cheaper, and consequently lower-quality, furniture.

“There are different qualities of furniture you can order,” Little said. “They got what they contracted for.”

University law professor Carol Chomsky said the law appears to support Contract’s position.

“You can’t say ‘this isn’t good enough for me,’ ” she said. “It has to be good enough for the contract. The fact that management changes does not affect the liability of the contract,” she said.

Residents’ complaints

The Melrose resident Sarah Johnson said she saw signs of trouble the moment she looked at her brand-new coffee table at the recently opened Melrose apartments last fall.

“There was glue all over the table, and the paint was chipping off,” she said.

Later that year, Johnson’s roommates left a large stain in their couch. The culprit was plain water – not something that normally leaves a stain.

The couch, which she and her roommates said is uncomfortable, now sits unused in the living room. An antique couch Johnson brought in is used instead.

Other students have complained about a variety of defective furniture during the past year, including broken table legs, burst couch seams and closet doors and drawers that are impossible to close.

“The dorms have nicer furniture than we do,” said Johnson, who will be a sophomore next fall.

Physics senior Jeff Lemmerman said he had trouble with his furniture immediately after moving in.

“Within the first week, the leg broke on our table,” he said. “Our couch tore for no apparent reason.”

First-year medical student Ashwin Ravichandran had similar problems with his table.

“The table didn’t last more than a month before the legs wobbled,” he said. “Overall, the furniture was pretty cheap.”

Meanwhile, Melrose residents are still living with what many consider poor-quality furniture. In response to what Harries and his office said were massive student complaints, The Melrose is refurbishing all of its units with new furniture this summer, much to the relief of students.

“The new stuff, I’m so excited to get,” Johnson said. “The furniture I’ve had to live the past year with is not what I expected.”

The Melrose is replacing over 3,400 pieces of furniture worth at least $700,000, all of which is less than a year old.

Harries said this time they are ordering furniture through a different company, Tallahassee, Fla.,- based Southern Furniture.

Students had a say in what furniture was chosen this time around, Harries said, and the couches will now repel stains – including water.

Jens Manuel Krogstad covers student life and welcomes comments at [email protected]