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Mandatory Valet Trash Services are a Racket and Residents Know It

More multifamily communities are incorporating mandatory valet trash services into their leases. The reason given is that it keeps garbage from piling up in a unit, but if managers of these properties were truly concerned about taking out the trash, they’d kick valet trash services off their property. Valet trash services have never been about providing a service for residents, that’s just the pretext. Forcing residents to pay for the service and refusing to let them opt-out may be a nice way to effectively raise rents but don’t think for a second your residents actually appreciate it. If anything, forcing residents to pay for a service they don’t want makes them feel like trash. 

The idea of valet trash services is disconnected from reality. No one likes to take out the trash, I grant them that. But what is the value in saving renters from minor inconvenience? Surely not what they’re charging. Not that tenant preferences matter in the world of valet trash. Providing a valuable service at a reasonable price isn’t necessary when your customers are guaranteed. Most services contract with the complex, which then requires residents to sign the valet trash service agreement. Residents cannot opt-out if they want to live in the building. When you don’t have to compete for customers, the result is a business unconcerned with the quality of the service they’re providing. Residents notice. 

This is not a legal argument. I understand owners and landlords are well within their rights to charge for the service. But what can be done and what should be done are often different. Americans have become accustomed to paying hidden fees. Ticket processing fees, overdraft fees, ATM fees, resort fees, cleaning fees, checked bag fees, printing fees. The list goes on. Why shouldn’t the multifamily get in on the revenue generated from these extra charges just like every other industry? Residents are already paying thousands every month. What’s a few dollars more? 

“Valet trash is a garbage service, literally and figuratively,” multifamily resident Eleana Thornton said. Her unit was 14 feet from the trash chute, but her complex charged her $25 every month for saving her the trip, and an additional trash fee on top of that from the City to haul it away. 

What’s worse is the value of the services rarely lives up to expectation, adding insult to injury. With a valet trash service, residents are constantly bringing trash in and out. Most services provide residents with a specific trash can to put outside their apartment daily. So instead of taking the trash out when you need to, residents are constantly managing whether the trash can is inside or outside. And if your trash can is out in the hallway after 7 p.m. with the bag tied up, what’re you supposed to do with new trash at that time when you’re making dinner? You need a second trash can or have a trash bag sitting on the floor of your unit. 

Some complexes will fine residents if a can is left in the hallway, so residents are under constant threat of additional fees if they don’t properly manage their trash can. Daily life doesn’t fit the tight timetables of valet trash. Get home from happy hour too late to put your can out? Oh well. Out of town so you can’t bring in your can? Fined. Or maybe a rodent ripped a hole in the trash bags sitting outside all night? Fined. Your bag was too heavy, they won’t throw it out, so it got left out. That’s an extra fine. Good luck getting your trash can replaced. God forbid you work non-regular hours, you’ll hardly be able to use the service you’re paying for. There’s no rescheduling. They come when they come, if they come. Over the holiday’s valet trash services take some time off, I’m sure they earned it. But that left hallways looking like landfills for days. There are always issues with valet trash services. Want to tap into the rage around valet trash services? Search ‘valet trash’ on any social media platform to see how your residents really feel. 

“It’s kind of bullshit we can’t opt-out, so we’re basically throwing away money every month,” resident Taylor Jones said. “In Atlanta, it’s worse because the service sometimes forgets our hallway, so we have trash sitting in the hallway all day the next day. So honestly while I get why the service is nice for older or disabled folks, I’ve largely viewed it as a waste of money and more of an inconvenience.“

There is value in valet trash, without a doubt. Many people appreciate the service. It’s when valet trash is put into practice and residents are not given an option to opt-out that it becomes a source of contention. The two are directly correlated. Valet trash services don’t have to care about providing a valuable service to residents because what they’re actually providing is an extra stream of income to the landlord. Bad service loses you customers, but not in the world of valet trash. Customers are captive, it doesn’t matter how many days you miss, bags you rip, fines you levy, or leaks you track through the building, customers have to pay either way and the only way they can opt-out is by finding a new home. An opt-in service is met more warmly than one forced upon residents and is incentivized to be an excellent service to earn more customers and opt-ins. Do you know who needs a valet trash service? My 85-year-old grandmother, who lives out in the country and either has to burn her trash or load it in the truck to take it to the dump miles away. Not young adults like me who live just feet from a dumpster or trash chute.

“A lot of newer complexes are actually opting out altogether and having the residents take their own trash out,” apartment locator Amy Callender said. “It’s very interesting actually because as prices get higher in complexes it seems that people with a higher budget don’t want valet trash while people who are in entry-level ‘luxury’ apartments do want it. I personally think it’s a silly amenity.”

Valet companies will tell you managing which units have opted out of the service is too complicated so they can’t do it. I refuse to believe that in the 21st century, with all the technology and logistics at humanity’s disposal, a multimillion-dollar corporation can’t figure out which unit doesn’t want trash picked up. It’s like they’ve never heard of a spreadsheet or mapping or actual customer service. Imagine UPS delivering a package to every single door, claiming they have to because they can’t track which unit the package is actually supposed to go to, and charging every resident for a delivery. Talk to any leasing professional and you understand the real reason: the contract between the service and the complex is typically a lump-sum agreement, not based on how many people are choosing to use the service, so letting residents opt-out would directly hurt the bottom line by forcing the complex to pay for the service the resident is choosing not to use. 

“I understand, people are busy, accessibility is an issue, the stairs are no joke,” YouTube influencer ‘Evelyn From The Streets’ said. “But making it a required charge for everybody no matter what is an infringement on my rights. My right to take out my own #$*% trash. You don’t know my economic struggle. What if I’m trying to save money and the only way I can do it is to take out my own trash? You don’t know my life.”

This all may sound trivial, but extra fees in the multifamily sector are not limited to valet trash. Landlords have gotten more creative with what they can charge extra for, it all adds up, making America’s housing affordability crisis even worse. Valet trash is just one of the unique ways landlords have devised to milk residents for more money. Set up fees, payment fees, amenity fees, cable fees, maintenance fees, parking, lease modification fees, lawn care, lease renewal fees, admin fees, and even additional trash fees on top of the valet trash fee. The only reason to take a valuable service and make it a required charge residents can’t opt out of is greed, turning a good idea into a source of contention and poor service by removing consumer choice. A service to take out trash in and of itself is not a problem, it’s the predatory business practices that have residents upset. Making valet trash services compete for business might actually improve the quality of the service. 

“I feel like it should be optional,” Chelsea Ledbetter told Texas Observer. “That could go for gas, for groceries. Stuff like that just tacks onto your bills. It’s an unnecessary cost for people, when it’s already hard enough” 

It’s my sincere expectation that this piece changes nothing, the money is too good for multifamily operators to walk away from. What’s not to love about monetizing your residents’ trash? The truth is no matter how good the money is, valet trash ruins the hallways, smells awful, and generally causes more problems than it’s worth for most residents. The internet is full of complaints and questions asking how to avoid the fees, opting out is one of the most commonly asked questions on the LegalAdvice community on Reddit. There’s little hope for renters. The worst part is some landlords are delusional enough to think the missed pickups, messy hallways, fines, and mandatory fees are actually helping residents. 

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