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Housing

Cockroaches and sewage backups move low-income residents to sue one of Denver’s largest landlords

Mint Urban Infinity Apartments received $3,987 from the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program which provides up to 15 months of rent to struggling tenants and landlords.

Stray trash is seen at a dumpster at a property owned by Cardinal Group Management in 2021. (Provided by Brandon Smith)

One of Denver’s largest landlords to low-income renters is accused in a lawsuit of leaving tenants struggling with cockroach infestations, sewage problems, no hot water and broken air conditioning systems during the summer, while many worked from home during the pandemic.

The lawsuit seeking class-action status for residents of the Mint Urban Infinity complex accuses Cardinal Group Management & Advisory, and the complex’s owners Glendale Properties I and Glendale Properties II, of allowing unsafe and unsanitary living conditions to go unaddressed.

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Cardinal Group, one the largest landlords to low-income tenants in Colorado, has allegedly failed to remedy serious maintenance issues at Mint Urban Infinity in a timely manner, even after repeated requests from residents for maintenance, violating state law and their contractual obligations, said Jason Legg, the lead attorney in the case. The nine-building, 561-unit apartment complex is just south of Glendale’s busy shopping district on South Colorado Boulevard. 

9to5 Colorado, a Denver nonprofit, is covering the cost of the litigation and is helping organize Mint Urban Infinity tenants.

In news stories detailing their complaints, tenants have cited numerous concerns, including: no air conditioning for almost two months during a summer heatwave and wildfire season, and no hot water for more than a week in July. 

Tenants have also complained about insect infestations, sewage backing up into their bathtubs and dishwashers, black mold, damaged walls, leaky pipes, unsafe laundry facilities, overflowing communal garbage areas in and outside the building, broken or missing locks to doors leading into the building, allowing for trespassing. Since 2018, there have been 64 elevator rescues or fires, making life difficult for elderly renters and tenants with disabilities in the complex, the lawsuit alleges.

Cockroaches stains and smear marks are seen at a property owned by Cardinal Group Management in 2021. (Courtesy photo/Brandon Smith)

Denver-based Cardinal Group Management runs about 20,000 units in 26 complexes in Colorado. 

Eddie Moreno, executive vice president of operations at Cardinal Group Management, on Oct. 5 said he disagreed with the characterization of conditions at Mint Urban Infinity.

“We disagree with the attorney’s characterization of the property and of our company,” he said. “If we receive a lawsuit, we will address the allegations and the case accordingly.”

On Thursday, he said the company still had not received a copy of the lawsuit, which was re-filed Oct. 22 in Denver District Court.

The lawsuit alleges tenants are unable to move out of the complex because Cardinal Group Management charges a fee equal to two month’s rent if they decide to terminate their lease early. Tenants can avoid the fee if they agree to sign a nondisclosure agreement, which helps conceal the landlord’s business practices, according to the lawsuit.

“After months of being lied to and stonewalled about unlivable conditions, I felt like I had no choice but to turn to the court for help,” said lead plaintiff Brandon Smith, who lives at Mint Urban Infinity and splits a $1,508 monthly rent fee with one roommate. “It was the only way I could get the landlord’s attention.”

Brandon Smith, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against Cardinal Group Management, poses for a portrait on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, in Denver. Smith, who moved into Mint Urban Infinity in Glendale in April 2021, has gathered complaints and evidence of unfit living conditions from over 180 tenants in surrounding properties. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Smith said he spoke to hundreds of tenants in the complex and learned the problems are worse than he thought. “So many people are suffering physically and emotionally from living here. It’s heartbreaking.”

At times, tenants have had to purchase cockroach traps, eat outside of their homes, miss work because of maintenance-related issues and incur lost wages, according to the lawsuit.

Five days into a 10-day period in July when tenants had no hot water, Smith and his roommate were sweating profusely in 95-degree weather, when another tenant knocked on the door asking if they were also living without hot water and air conditioning. Soon after, residents scheduled a meeting to discuss their concerns before they all banded together and contacted attorneys.

“I already have anxiety and sleep problems, and so, this further amplified them,” Smith said. “I’ve been in a state of exhaustion my entire time living here. I moved in April 1, 2021, and I feel like it’s just been one big prank.”

Apartment management company received coronavirus relief funds

Cardinal is a multifamily real estate investment company headquartered in Denver. It owns and manages more than 35,000 residential units in 37 states.

There are 57 complaints about problems occurring at Cardinal Group Management’s many properties, according to the Better Business Bureau website. Similarly, there are more than 200 reviews and a community grade of C-, on the ApartmentRatings.com website.

Mint Urban Infinity Apartments received $3,987 from the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program which provides up to 15 months of rent to struggling tenants and landlords. 

The state rental assistance program has had severe delays in getting funds distributed to eligible applicants, so pending requests from the apartments’ renters may not be included. Cardinal Group also received $9,067.81 for tenants of Denizen Apartments in Denver, according to Emergency Rental Assistance Program data.

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Roaches, backed-up sewage and a broken elevator 

Legg, the lead attorney in the case, is accusing Cardinal Group Management of breaking multiple parts of the Warranty of Habitability Law, which protects tenants in Colorado. 

A landlord is in violation of the law if tenants do not have access to reasonable amounts of hot water at all times or if there are too few exterior receptacles for garbage. If a landlord has received written notice that the premises is uninhabitable or otherwise unfit for occupancy and fails to fix the problem within a reasonable amount of time, they are in breach of the law. 

If the landlord continually fails to remedy the issue after following a specific process, the resident may be eligible for relief, such as, terminating their lease, nonpayment of rent or rent reduction. 

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of capitalizing on Colorado’s affordable housing crisis. The lawsuit accuses the defendants of advertising to residents, who, before they move in, are often unable to personally visit the property. 

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The lawsuit claims tenants who do visit the property before they move in, are shown model apartments and marketing materials that describe the property as featuring, newly-renovated apartments, newly-renovated resort-style pools and state-of-the-art fitness centers, that feature air conditioning, elevators, on-site maintenance, and laundry facilities.

The elevators were often out of service when Jen Largent moved into Mint Urban Infinity about seven years ago, just after Cardinal Group began managing the complex. 

That was a problem for Largent, 50, who has back problems and a chronic illness that made it hard for her to climb stairs to her apartment on the sixth floor. When Largent began missing days of work because the elevators were broken, she and her husband decided to terminate their lease early. Cardinal Group Management made the couple sign a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for waiving a fee equal to two month’s rent, Largent said.

A few years later, after the couple separated, Largent moved back to Mint Urban Infinity thinking Cardinal would have by then fixed many of the problems.

When her belongings arrived in March 2020, her new apartment hadn’t been cleaned. 

“There were roaches everywhere” she said, “live ones and dead ones — bigger ones, little ones.”

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While workers bug bombed her new apartment, Largent was moved temporarily across the hall into another unit. As the clean up commenced, roaches began crawling out from the infested apartment and into other neighbors’ homes, including into the unit where Largent was temporarily staying.

“I couldn’t get away from them,” said Largent, who still lives at Mint Urban Infinity. 

Smith, the lead plaintiff in the case, recounts similarly disturbing conditions. Once, while guests were visiting him at his apartment, his toilet wouldn’t flush. He called an emergency maintenance line for residents three times, but no one answered his calls. After he attempted to solve the problem by using a plunger, 3 to 4 inches of sewage backed up into his shower, he said. 

“They are putting my friends’ and neighbors’ health and safety in jeopardy. There are physically impaired people who have been unable to easily access their apartments and mothers who worry about their children crawling in sewage that has spilled all over their floors,” he said. “It’s disgusting, and the landlord feels no shame or remorse.”

The lawsuit asks for the right for any resident of Mint Urban Infinity to break their lease early without penalty, retaliation or intimidation from the landlord. The claim is also asking the court to require that the landlord comply with contractual and legal obligations and to refund residents for services they paid for but did not receive.


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