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Apartment tenants without heat question whether management is adhering to state law

Boilers won't be fixed until mid-November
Posted at 11:12 AM, Nov 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-03 13:12:34-05

DENVER -- Tenants at an apartment complex near Montview and Ulster have been without heat for more than a month.

Some are questioning whether management is adhering to the state's Warranty of Habitability law.

Among other things, that law requires that apartment owners provide hot water and heat to tenants.

One tenant, at Advenir Stapleton, told Denver7 she wants a break in her rent because of the ongoing issue.

"We pay for heat," Jessica Busby said, "but we're not getting what we've paid for."

Busby said the boiler has been a problem for a very long time and that it went out again in September.

The boiler is part of a system that provides hot water for cooking, bathing and laundry, and to heat the building.

Busby said no one needed heat in September or early October, but they did need hot water.

"I had to boil water just to take a 'bird bath,' or I had to take a cold shower," she said.

Busby added the boiler issue became a big problem during the last two snow storms.

"I have two space heaters and it was still cold," she said. "We baked a lot. We bundled up and we use electric blankets."

"Heat and water have been an issue for awhile," said Busby's neighbor, Jordan Wagner. "It goes off and comes back on, and it's always like a band-aid fix."

Wagner told Denver7 the maintenance staff works hard to keep the system operational, but he thinks management could have done a better job of managing the time.

"Fix it in the summer, when nobody cares how hot or cold it is," he said.

An apartment industry expert, Teo Nicolais, of the Harvard Extension School, said the state's Warranty of Habitability law doesn't promise that nothing will go wrong, but does obligate a landlord to take action within a reasonable amount of time.

After Busby complained multiple times, management brought in a portable boiler to provide enough hot water for cooking and bathing, but she said the portable unit does not provide enough hot water to heat the building.

An Advenir spokesman explained, in an email to Denver7, that new boilers are being custom made.

"We were initially told they would be installed this week," Joe Mendez said. "Because of where the boiler rooms are located -- down two flights of stairs and into a 32 inch doorway -- the contractor had to revise the original plans so that the boilers could be delivered in smaller sections and then put together inside the boiler rooms."

Mendez said that has caused a delay.

"The new delivery date is November 14. Once delivered, it will take approximately 2 days to build and install," he said.

That doesn't sit well with some tenants.

"It's infuriating," Ms. Busby said. "They're not crediting our accounts. They're not offering anything except we can move you to the building next door."

Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, of 9to5 Colorado, a working women's advocacy group, told Denver7 that when a habitability issue materially interferes
with a tenant's life, health or safety, and the landlord has received reasonably complete written or electronic notice of the condition, then the landlord, at the request of the tenant, shall provide....a comparable dwelling no cost to the tenant, or a hotel room."

Nicolais told Denver7 that it appears that Advenir is adhering to the Warranty of Habitability law.

"It requires landlords to commence work within a short period of time," he said, adding that by providing a portable boiler, space heaters to those who have asked for them, and offering to move Busby to another unit in the building next door, the owner is trying to accomodate tenants.

He said while the law requires the owner to begin repairs in an reasonable amount of time, it doesn't say specifically when a problem must be resolved.

"One of the challenges we have in Denver," he said, "is there are a lot of older buildings, and those older buildings have old systems, which can be complicated to fix, particularly when it comes to boilers."

He said boilers are a very highly specialized building system.

"Not everyone can work on a boiler," Nicolais said, "and the parts often have to be special ordered, or even customized to that particular boiler."

He said he's not surprised to hear there are complications related to that particular boiler but added, "what's important is that the landlord is communicating with the residents and is providing them with a means of alternative heat during this time."

Nicolais said tenants everywhere can learn from this experience.

"All tenants should take the time to test their heaters," he said, "or you won't know it's not working until you really need it."

He said if it's not working, tenants should sent an email or written notice to the landlord right away, so the landlord can start working on it.

He said email is preferable because it has a date and time stamp on it.

Nicolais also said if the home is unsafe or uninhabitable, the landlord is responsible for finding alternative accommodations for the tenant.

"The landlords first responsibility is the health and safety of their residents," he said.

He also said communication is key, and that the landlord should explain what action is being taken and what the renter can expect.

Nicolais recommends that renters familiarize themselves with the protections they have under the Warranty of Habitability Act.

He said the Apartment Association of metro Denver has a renter's rights guide which provides residents with information on the Warranty of Habitability Act.