Denver: Cedar Run tenants organize to demand better conditions

The complaints residents of Cedar Run Apartments in Denver have about their aging complex came to a head in January when many units lost heat during a cold snap.

It was the latest in a list of grievances tenants had expressed both to management and to the city’s department of health — no heat, no hot water, cockroaches, leaks, black mold — with asbestos even discovered in one of the buildings after a fire in December.

So, residents have taken the uncommon step in Colorado of organizing, albeit informally, to bring attention to their living conditions.

Phoelix Rutty, a Cedar Run tenant since October, has been leading the effort.

After management addressed January’s loss of heat and hot water in an email, about 75 tenants formed a WhatsApp group chat and, through those conversations, discovered what their neighbors were dealing with.

“We all realized that the issues are considerably deeper than what I at least initially thought,” Rutty said.

  • Resident Phoelix Rutty looks at ice forming on a window inside the mailroom where an exposed pipe is leaking water at Cedar Run Apartments in Denver on Feb. 15, 2023. Rutty, a resident of the complex, says the leaking pipe has remained unfixed for some time. "There's families here, there's elders, there's people with disabilities," Rutty said. "It's a bad situation." (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Robert Ironshield tests for hot water out of the faucet in his apartment at Cedar Run Apartments in Denver on Feb. 15, 2023. Ironshield said his apartment, like many others, is run down with doors that stick or get jammed, mold in the corners of the rooms, and he often doesn't have hot water or heat in his apartment. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Robert Ironshield tries to fix a stuck sliding glass door in his apartment at Cedar Run Apartments in Denver on Feb. 15, 2023. Ironshield said he often doesn't have hot water or heat in his apartment. Residents of the South Denver apartment complex have joined forces with their neighbors to demand better living conditions. They pointed to instances of absent heating, persistent mold, cockroaches, leaks and wet carpet. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Resident Danielle Brovich smiles at her son Cayde Nichols, 3, in the living room of her apartment at Cedar Run Apartments in Denver on Feb. 15, 2023. Because most of the machines in the laundry rooms in her complex don't work Brovich and her husband Chase Nichols, seated in the background, have piles of laundry they haven't been able to do. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Residents say many of the washing and drying machines at Cedar Run Apartments, pictured on on Feb. 15, 2023, aren't functional. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Resident Danielle Brovich stands by an elevator that she says has had the door open, lights on and buzzer sounding for weeks near her apartment at Cedar Run Apartments in Denver on Feb. 15, 2023. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Resident Phoelix Rutty, right, looks at broken pipe in a garage underneath their apartment that is leaking waste water all over the garage at Cedar Run Apartments on Feb. 15, 2023. Rutty says the leak has been going on for about a week. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Trash sits outside of Cedar Run Apartments in Denver on Feb. 15, 2023 in Denver. Residents say trash service has been delayed so refuse is building up in the bins for each building in the apartment complex. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • A resident uploaded photos from November of blood trails staining the hallways, stairs and sidewalks of Cedar Run Apartments' Building B. (Photo courtesy of Cedar Run Apartments Tenants)

  • Chris Ironshield sits in the apartment belonging to his uncle Robert Ironshield at Cedar Run Apartments in Denver on Feb. 15, 2023. Despite the problems with the complex, Ironshield is grateful to have a roof over his head after being unhoused for months before finding this apartment. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

  • Resident Phoelix Rutty looks over an old heating unit in their living room that doesn't connect with the thermostat in their apartment at Cedar Run Apartments in Denver on Feb. 15, 2023. Rutty says water pressure and temperature can fluctuate from almost no pressure at all to working fine or being scalding hot. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

These kind of landlord-tenant issues have come to the fore lately and are being examined by lawmakers during the current legislative session. In the Democratic-controlled statehouse, the proposals lean pro-tenant and seek to address a host of issues, including rising rents, landlord-imposed fees and evictions.

In the meantime, tenants can file complaints with their local departments of health. That’s exactly what Danielle Brovich did.

Last March, the 30-year-old moved into her unit in Building C of Cedar Run Apartments with her partner of seven years and 3-year-old son, who is nonverbal. “I chose this place because it had parks.”

But from the first weeks of her lease, she said she’s dealt with trouble at the complex at 888 S. Oneida St., including a stolen car, unreliable hot water, faulty appliances, inconsistent heating and unresponsive management. On Thursday, before her interview with The Denver Post, Brovich’s power went out.

This month, she filed a complaint with the health department.

“I’m constantly on edge, constantly on the verge of a breakdown,” Brovich said.

Since the start of 2022, Denver’s Department of Public Health & Environment has received about 12 complaints about Cedar Run, with some related to heat and water. They include violations of the Rules and Regulations Governing Residential Health and Denver’s Residential Housing Code.

“Our investigators are aware and familiar with the issues at the Cedar Run complex,” Amber Campbell, health department spokesperson, said.

After receiving a complaint, an investigator will conduct an inspection, then, if necessary, issue a notice of violation setting a time frame to correct the problem, Campbell said. Failure to comply can result in citations, a summons to court or other enforcement action, she added.

The department has issued several notices of violation to Cedar Run property managers, “some of which have been corrected,” Campbell said.

DPHE’s residential health investigators respond to about 1,200 complaints each year on average, handling 882 between Aug. 1, 2022, and Feb. 1, 2023, she added.

Denver Department of Excise and Licenses spokesperson Eric Escudero said the multi-unit rental property hasn’t yet received the city’s newly-required residential rental license, which was due at the start of 2023. The city estimates that thousands of properties have missed the application deadline.

“The city has no record of an active or pending residential rental license application at that address” of 888 S. Oneida St., he said on Feb. 7. “All unlicensed multi-unit rental properties are subject to enforcement action in Denver as of Jan. 1.”

It’s “a 1970s vintage building”

Residents have not only sent their own notices to apartment management – they’ve also staged a walk-in at the leasing office with dozens of tenants, and held a protest outside of the property entrance, Rutty said.

On Friday afternoon, close to a dozen residents gathered on the sidewalk, with signs reading, “Coldest showers in Denver” and “Moldy units for rent.”

Theresa Foss of Apartment Management Consultants LLC, which manages Cedar Run, confirmed her awareness of the “resident group that is working together to voice their concerns,” acknowledging the recent meeting among tenants, management and regional management staff.

“Cedar Run is a 1970s vintage building with large mechanical HVAC systems” that can require occasional repairs or replacements, Foss wrote in an email. “At times, failures of these systems may result in intermittent heat and/or hot water at the property.”

Most recently, a leaking boiler has caused problems. Now relying on a “temporary solution,” a permanent fix is scheduled for completion by mid-March, Foss said. The team is monitoring the water temperature in individual units, along with the hot water output and return in the boiler room, she added.

Foss pointed to the labor shortage and supply-chain issues as impacting their ability to make some repairs immediately. “We are addressing these issues daily as they arise and have been communicating with the residents.”

She said trash pick-up and cleaning in the common areas occur daily, but the team “cannot always control residents’ or their guests’ behaviors that impact how the property may appear at times.”

Andrew Hamrick of the Apartment Association of Metro Denver – a trade association that represents the multi-family rental housing industry – said he doesn’t have any specific knowledge of the Cedar Run situation, so it’s difficult to determine if the management company was being responsive enough.

“Reasonable delays in maintenance response are sometimes beyond the housing provider’s control, just as they are when we repair our own houses,” Hamrick said.

Natischa Volpe, a senior community attorney with nonprofit Community Economic Defense Project, previously known as the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, said she assesses these kinds of conflicts on “a case by case basis.”

“The biggest barrier for us as attorneys is that people are scared to go up against their landlord because they have nowhere to go,” Volpe said.

But the residents of Cedar Run Apartments are successfully drawing public attention to their plight because they’re “using their voices as one.” Collective organization among tenants is “very rare” in Colorado, Volpe added.

“I don’t think that people understand that housing rights are human rights.”

“Nobody deserves this”

On the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 4, the Denver Fire Department rushed to the scene of a fire in Building A of Cedar Run Apartments, said spokesperson JD Chism. As smoke billowed throughout the building on all three stories, the crew extinguished the source in the stairwell.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Chism added.

Soon after, Cedar Run’s maintenance found asbestos in the walls, and management decided not to permit residents back into the building, Chism said.

The office of District 6 Councilman Paul Kashmann was first contacted by friends and neighbors of Cedar Run tenants in early December after that incident. “We’ve got a lot of issues around rental properties that leave people powerless, and it’s something that needs to be addressed one way or the other,” Kashmann said.

Kayla Crawhorn is one of the residents whose original apartment caught fire last year. The 26-year-old and her boyfriend hadn’t run into many problems at the complex before “the fire fiasco” – just short hot water outages and vandalism of their car.

This month, the couple was finally granted access to their old unit to retrieve their possessions, but “found that it had been completely vandalized and looted.” Crawhorn said thousands of dollars worth of belongings are missing, along with a family heirloom.

They have since transferred to a different unit in Building G where she said she’s discovered not only roaches, but also black mold in the paneling by the bathroom and utility closet, inside of her linen closet and more, according to emailed photos and videos.

“It has been nightmare after nightmare,” Crawhorn wrote in an email Friday.

Cedar Run management addressed the mold, with Crawhorn adding that the contractor noticed “it looked like a mushroom was growing in one of the closets.” But with roaches still scurrying around the apartment, she and her boyfriend chose to transfer to yet another unit.

Five units at Cedar Run Apartments are now available for rent, with an additional five freeing up in the near future, as of Thursday. Prices range from a low of $1,350 for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit to a high of $1,600 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit.

The complex is rated 2.5 stars on Google Reviews, with more than a dozen one- and two-star reviews from the past six months.

Cedar Run resident Katherine Sanchez, 37, regrets not reading them.

Sanchez moved to the U.S. in 2018, then to Colorado from Florida last March – “expecting a better life.”

She described the American apartment rental process as still relatively new to her. Because Sanchez and her boyfriend didn’t have employment lined up in the state, and relied on their savings instead, she said only one complex approved their application: Cedar Run.

But after their first month in their Building B unit, Sanchez said the bathroom began flooding – not once, but three times. She described her worst experience as watching fecal matter float in their bathtub over the course of a weekend as they awaited an answer from a plumbing company contacted by Cedar Run.

Having a 2-year-old child at home only exacerbated her stresses, as the couple worried about their daughter coming into contact with contaminants. At one point, Sanchez said she was forced to use her child’s potty-training toilet to do her business.

She now hopes to break their lease without penalty. It ends in April, “but I just had enough of this place.”

“It is incomprehensible that it has had to reach this point,” she said. “Nobody deserves this.”

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