News 5 Investigates

May 4, 2014 7:54 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Investigates: How to deal with a landlord who doesn’t keep his/her end of the deal

Tenants living at the Pine Creek Village Apartments are relieved following a 3-week dispute over unpaid utilities between the landlord and Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU).

Tenants feared they would have to find a new place to live after CSU announced it would disconnect all utilities beginning May 9.

News 5 confirmed Thursday an agreement was reached between CSU and the landlord, Terry Ragan, of Colorado Springs.

Still, tenants like Brian Strongreen are fired up and wondering what the landlord was doing with their monthly rent, part of which was supposed to go to pay utilities.

"I spoke with the corporate office and they told me they aren't speaking to me and hung up
on me," Brian said. "I called back. They told me to stop harassing them on the phone and they aren't speaking to me. I tried to go in-person to the office and had doors slammed on me and locked."

When tenants failed to get answers, News 5 stepped in. However, the moment we walked in the door at corporate office, located at 1390 Quail Lake Loop, it was clear our questions weren't welcome either.

The receptionist at the front desk darted into a back room as soon as the News 5 Guardians walked in. She and another employee hid out of sight from our cameras and asked us to leave. We gave them numerous opportunities to explain the unpaid utilities bill, but were only told to get off the property before they called the police.

Tenants were also telling us office management back at the complex had been telling current and potentially new tenants that the utilities bill had been sorted out, despite CSU confirming to News 5 the bill had not yet been resolved.

News 5 sent in one of our producers undercover with a camera to inquire about whether the bill had been paid. Two leasing agents in the office told our undercover producer that everything was fine and that the billing issue was resolved.

We then went into the leasing office and inquired about why the leasing agents were misinforming tenants about the utilities bill. We were told "no comment" and were asked to leave the property.

To get answers, we stopped by Terry Ragan's $1.5 million house in the Broadmoor area of Colorado Springs.

As the News 5 crew was taping, a woman, appearing to be Terry's wife, Sheila, backed out of the driveway and confronted us. She said we were being "destructive," refused to answer any of our questions and drove away.

Attorney Claudia Abernethy says nearly 100 tenants have called her for legal advice.

"The tenants who want to leave, I have to warn them that may not be an option under the law," she said.

Unless you and the landlord agree in writing to terminate the lease, walking out could bite you in the end.

"The landlord can sue a tenant for up to six years after they move out for rent," Abernethy said.

Failing to pay rent could hurt your credit. Instead, Abernethy says try and discuss move-out options before leaving. If the landlord refuses to let you leave without a penalty, be sure to send a documented list of problems you are having with the complex via certified mail.

This provides proof of the issues you are facing should you have to go to court.

Abernathy says you can also use your rent to fix the problem.

"If you can't use your rent to fix the problem, then notify the landlord in writing that you are holding the rent until they fix the problem," Abernethy said. "You then have grounds to sue for breaching the lease."

Abernethy adds, if you have to take your landlord to court, go to county court.

She said a case filed in district court can be extremely costly and take much longer for a judge to rule on.

The maximum amount of damages which can be awarded in county court is $15,000.

Colorado has a warranty of habitability law to protect tenants from landlords who refuse to fix certain problems.

For more information on the warranty of habitability law, click on the following link:
http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/colorado-landlord-and-tenant-duties.aspx

To view a list of City of Colorado Springs code violations at Terry Ragan's properties in El Paso County, click on the link below:

Violations.pdf

 

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