Dorm storage company ‘duped’ college students, city lawsuit claims

After a storage company geared toward college students lost and damaged the belongings of several NYU students last fall, the city is filing a lawsuit. It claims that the company racked up over 1,000 consumer protection law violations.


Kevin Wu

(Illustration by Kevin Wu)

Abby Wilson, Managing Editor

A moving and storage company popular among NYU students was hit by a sweeping lawsuit from the New York City consumer affairs department. The company, Dorm2Dorm, faces accusations that it knowingly deceived its customers. It has been charged with at least 1,200 violations of consumer protection law.

Last August, WSN found that Dorm2Dorm delayed deliveries, damaged belongings and failed to return items to a number of NYU students.

After hearing complaints and conducting interviews with several customers, the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection is calling on the company to reimburse customers, pay civil penalties and stop falsely promoting services it does not adequately provide.

“[Dorm2Dorm] misleads vulnerable college students with deceptive advertisements about the services it provides,” a complaint filed as part of the lawsuit states. “As a result, many college students —  and their parents/providers — have been exploited and left in the lurch, forced to deal with more complications rather than the easy and integrated two-in-one moving and storage services Defendant duped them into purchasing.”

Dorm2Dorm offers storage and delivery services for college students while they are on summer break or studying away. It promises to provide safe storage and scheduled pickups and drop-offs of items. It also advertises an “elite” pricing package, which promises a delivery window of 90 minutes, as opposed to the three hours offered to customers who choose the basic “economy” package. Hand trucks, invoices and in-room pickup and delivery are also available as a part of the elite package, which costs more per item stored, per month.

“None of this is true in practice,” the complaint reads. Dorm2Dorm did not respond to requests for comment.

Last summer, CAS sophomore Sebastián Prats-Fernández stored his belongings with the company, and on Aug. 27, had a delivery scheduled to Palladium residence hall, where he would live for the academic year. On the day of delivery, he was expecting to reunite with his four boxes of belongings — including a sentimental letter from his mother. Instead, he heard radio silence from Dorm2Dorm, aside from one vague text message from the company’s CEO, Jonathan Hotchandani.

He said he was forced to stay near his residence hall for a few days following the scheduled drop-off time because he did not want to miss an unannounced arrival, something he had heard that other students were experiencing.

The audacity of treating college students and their parents with zero respect, no empathy and with no regard for the implications their actions had during an already-stressful time could not go without repercussions.

— Diane Castro, NYU parent

At the time, NYU move-in was in full swing, with thousands of students returning to campus for the fall semester. The university assigned move-in time slots to each student, each only a couple of hours long, to facilitate the process. Many students who used Dorm2Dorm’s services scheduled their delivery times to align with those time windows, but several were left frustrated when their items were returned late, damaged or not at all.

[Read more: Dorm storage company loses, damages NYU students’ belongings]

While waiting for his belongings, Prats-Fernández was concerned about the fate of his letter, which he described as “emotionally-important” and “one-of-a-kind.” He was finally reunited with his belongings four days later, on Aug. 31 — at the wrong address — and said that the experience left him feeling like he’d been scammed. He said he thought that the lawsuit was justified because of the stress he and many others underwent at the time.

Prats-Fernández did find a bright side to the unfortunate situation though — a truck driver with the company tried to explain the situation to him, and even bought him a sandwich for having to wait.

“It put into perspective how a lot of these problems have to do with greed in upper management,” Prats-Fernández said. “From what I recall, what he was able to explain to me of what was happening was that this was a worker strike due to poor working conditions. He specifically called his boss an ‘asshole’ too, which sealed the deal for me on that.”

His mother, Liza Fernández-Rosselli, recalled the stress the two were under at the time. She said her son was lucky despite the fact that the boxes were returned “pretty beat up,” as some of his friends did not receive their belongings at all. Their family will not be using another storage company in the future, she said — they will opt to put Prats-Fernández’s items in a self-storage facility, or at their home in Puerto Rico instead. 

Fernández-Rosselli also said that Dorm2Dorm was charging customers a monthly fee through the fall, which she took up with her credit card company. The credit card company took more than five months to process the complaint, though, because they were also unable to contact Dorm2Dorm, according to Fernández-Rosselli.

“I feel terrible for every single student that had to go through this, and for their parents as well,” Fernández-Rosselli said. “Many of us were not there to help, we all paid a lot of money for this service. We had no choice but to simply replace items. This was a horrible situation for all families that selected this service.”

The city agency that filed the lawsuit reviewed 19 consumer complaints, and became aware of over 65 more, before concluding that Dorm2Dorm “consistently fails” to deliver on the services it advertises. It also found that students at other schools, including Columbia University, had similar experiences with the company.

The lawsuit was filed in the New York Supreme Court by Vilda Vera Mayuga, the commissioner of the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, which works to protect workers and consumers in the city by licensing businesses, upholding consumer protection and workplace laws, addressing complaints related to the workplace and providing related resources and education to New Yorkers.

“No person deserves to see their valued possessions mishandled, misplaced, or irreparably damaged because the company they trusted scammed them,” said Michael Lanza, a spokesperson for the consumer affairs department. “DCWP will not hesitate to hold predatory businesses, like Dorm2Dorm, accountable for their actions.”

The lawsuit also details that Dorm2Dorm is not legally certified to offer moving services in New York because it is not registered with the state’s Department of Transportation. Vehicles that are affiliated with a business and weigh more than the department’s pre-set limit are required to have a USDOT number — an identification number similar to that of a license plate. They are also required to file evidence of insurance and adhere to a set of safety guidelines. In its complaint, DCWP claims that Dorm2Dorm did not comply with these requirements.

A 25% “instant rebate” offered by Dorm2Dorm is also deceptive, according to the lawsuit — it alleges that the offer involves time-consuming requirements and does not discount services from the listed price online. According to the complaint, Dorm2Dorm “obscures the actual costs of its services and entices young consumers into purchasing a product based on a rebate that is anything but instant.”

Dorm2Dorm’s website is no longer accessible, but as of December, it stated that the company was founded in 2005, and operates in six states and Washington D.C. It advertised that it has served over 42,000 students, with nearly 200,000 boxes stored. Three phone numbers were listed —  two of which had the last four digits omitted, along with the message “coming soon.” A third number waslisted in full, with the message “Text Line Only NO PHONE CALLS ACCEPTED.”

During fall move-in at NYU, some residents and their parents received a text message on Aug.  27 of last year, signed by Hotchandani, the company’s CEO. The texts cited “severe staffing shortages” in New York City as the reason for delays, and asked customers to disregard previously confirmed delivery times. Later that day, he sent a second text message.

“I want to sincerely apologize for the delay on the delivery of your items,” the message read. “My employees are refusing to come into the city this late in the evening. I will have a truck sent into the city tomorrow by noon. They will reach out to you in order to schedule a delivery time directly with you tomorrow.” 

Hotchandani did not respond to requests for comment.

Diane Castro and her daughter, Sophia Herzog, a sophomore at the Tisch School of the Arts, decided to use Dorm2Dorm to store her belongings while the student spent the summer at home in California. Herzog stored seven boxes with the company, and though they were all eventually returned to her, the mother-daughter pair waited for several days, all the while constantly attempting to contact Dorm2Dorm. Castro said she was grateful that the city took the initiative to file the lawsuit.

“It is inconceivable to me that a company could be so blatantly unprofessional with no remorse,” Castro said. “I have so much respect for how [the city] took action against this despicable company that lacks integrity and should be held accountable for its actions. I am still waiting for my refund!”

Castro and her daughter decided to rent a self-storage unit in Manhattan to store surplus items during the school year and over the summer. They have keys to the unit and can access it at any time, and said they are grateful for the peace of mind it has brought them.

“I used to live in New York years ago, and although I am back in Los Angeles, my love for New  York never wavers,” Castro said. “The audacity of treating college students and their parents with zero respect, no empathy and with no regard for the implications their actions had during an already-stressful time could not go without repercussions.”

Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected].