The landlord of an extended stay motel in Aurora, who recently settled with three plaintiffs who sued his company for hiring armed guards to illegally evict residents at gunpoint in late 2021, is being sued again by 18 other residents with similar but more extensive claims.
The first lawsuit against the VareCo, and its founder and managing partner Terrance Doyle, was filed in Arapahoe County District Court in November 2021, and was settled in January 2022.
Now, other former tenants are suing VareCo, alleging they were illegally evicted from the 95-unit Summit View Inn, an extended stay motel on East Colfax Avenue in Aurora, and in the process lost valuable possessions, including clothes, passports, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, Social Security cards, medications, furniture and family heirlooms, the new lawsuit says.
The new lawsuit, which names 18 plaintiffs and seeks class-action status for other low-income people who were evicted from the motel, was filed in December in Arapahoe County District Court. The lawsuit accuses VareCo, also known as Amen Corner, of violating state protections against wrongful eviction, charging illegal late fees, unfair and deceptive acts and practices and racketeering.
Arapahoe County property records show the building is owned by 11800 E Colfax OZB, a company for which VareCo is the registered agent.
VareCo notified Summit View Inn residents on or around Sept. 14, 2021, that their right to remain in their homes would be terminated on Oct. 28, 2021. But the notices also demanded that residents had to leave their units no later than Oct. 2, 2021, an inconsistency that confused tenants, the lawsuit says.
On Oct. 2, 2021, armed guards hired by VareCo went door to door in the complex, demanding that all residents leave their homes immediately. VareCo leaders allowed some residents who did not leave their units to remain in the building overnight, but made them leave the following day, according to the lawsuit.
For two days, residents frantically packed their belongings, as Summit View Inn staff and guards armed with handguns and assault-style rifles hovered, according to the lawsuit.
Guards remained at the property and locked apartment doors after residents left, and maintenance staff began discarding any remaining belongings left behind, the lawsuit says.
After the eviction, an attorney for the plaintiffs called the Summit View Inn to request the immediate return of residents’ possessions, but an employee there said tenants’ belongings had been discarded or would eventually be destroyed, according to the lawsuit.
Renovation of the motel began shortly after the residents were evicted.
Summit View Inn tenants have attempted multiple times to contact the VareCo to recover their personal property, the lawsuit says, but the company has not made any efforts to return those items.
The lawsuits also say the landlord did not follow the proper court process to legally evict residents, giving written notice of the eviction only a few weeks before it commenced. Typically, the eviction process includes several steps that, after an initial notice is given, mostly take place in court. If the landlord won, a court order would be issued and only then would the county sheriff show up to evict residents, according to the Colorado Forcible Entry and Detainer Law. The VareCo has not filed any eviction order to remove Summit View Inn in Arapahoe County District Court.
VareCo did notify residents that they had to leave, but pushed them out before they had their day in court, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys at the Community Economic Defense Project, formerly named the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. After the eviction, most residents faced homelessness in some way, with many moving into congregate shelters, their cars or temporary hotel rooms, according to the lawsuits.
“What happened to these people was very egregious,” said Burt Nadler, an attorney at the Community Economic Defense Project, who is representing the plaintiffs.
“They suffered on a daily basis through their health and well-being — and their sense of stability — and their basic dignity was trampled on,” he said. “I think they were seriously taken advantage of by virtue of the fact that they were poor and trying to make ends meet and put a roof over the heads of themselves and their families, only to have to suffer the indignity of paying unlawful fees and in many cases, being locked out of their homes sometimes on a daily or weekly basis.”
In the first lawsuit, residents asked the court to immediately allow them to retrieve any of their belongings that were left inside their homes when they were rushed out, and grant a temporary restraining order to stop the landlord from destroying any more of their property.
In that same lawsuit, attorneys also asked the court to require VareCo to return fees that were collected illegally from residents who were charged a $5 late fee if they paid rent after 11 a.m., and another $10 if rent was still not paid by 3 p.m. that same day. Those fees were unreasonable and were not fair estimates of the damages the landlord suffered, according to the lawsuit.
If rent was not paid by 11 a.m. on a given day, property managers would place a metal device on the resident’s door, blocking access to the keyhole, so that they could not get in until they paid the fees, a practice many tenants called “booting.” Sometimes the booting left residents stranded outside of their homes for days. If rent was paid late, VareCo sometimes made residents pay for an additional security deposit, according to the most-recent lawsuit.
In this most-recent lawsuit, former Summit View Inn tenants are asking for their personal belongings to be returned, or to be compensated for those losses, and to be refunded the illegal late fees the defendant collected. If the judge agrees the plaintiffs were illegally evicted, each former resident included in the lawsuit could also receive three times their monthly rent, or $5,000, whichever is greater, plus attorney’s fees and other money from the court, the lawsuit says. The plaintiffs are also seeking to represent others harmed by unlawful practices, including those who were subjected to paying repeated illegal late fees and the daily threat of eviction without any due process, their attorneys said.
A few days after Doyle was served the second lawsuit, a spokesperson from the VareCo said in an emailed response that an affiliate company acquired and has been renovating the Summit View Inn to improve the property and surrounding neighborhoods, and provide clean, safe, and affordable housing for unhoused veterans.
“This lawsuit, driven by activist lawyers, is not only factually and legally baseless but hopes to interfere with our mission to provide affordable housing to a veteran population deserving of our support,” the spokeswoman wrote in the email. “The lawsuit also hopes to stifle our efforts to make the property and the surrounding area a safer place for the community and visitors. VareCo will defend its name, reputation, and mission in court.”
The spokeswoman did not respond to an email requesting more information about what VareCo views as factually incorrect in the lawsuit and how many units will house veterans once renovations are completed. The Summit View Inn is just west of the Fitzsimons medical campus in Aurora, where the new VA hospital is located.
The VareCo spokeswoman said the Summit View Inn rehabilitation project is supported by the City of Aurora, Aurora Mental Health Center and local human service organizations such as Aurora Warms the Night. Aurora Warms the Night and Aurora Mental Health Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Michael Brannen, a spokesman for the City of Aurora said the VareCo applied to redevelop Summit View Inn.
“The city of Aurora’s interactions with VareCo have been within the standard process we follow with any site or redevelopment plan,” Brannen said in an email. “The city has not received any affordable housing applications to request funding for this project.”
VareCo is a private real estate investment firm that purchases “distressed properties” in Denver and Des Moines, Iowa. It owns more than 750 apartments, part of a portfolio the company’s website says is valued at $80 million.
VareCo purchases a property, finds new homes for all tenants, renovates the property and re-rents the rehabbed complex to new residents at or above market-rate rents, according to a YouTube video featuring Doyle that was recently removed from the internet.
VareCo purchased The Summit View Inn on Feb. 14, 2020, just before the pandemic, for more than $5 million. In a video posted to Instagram, Doyle said the company planned to spend another $5 million renovating the complex, just west of the Anschutz Medical Campus, before selling it for $15 million. The Summit View Inn rehabilitation represents VareCo’s largest purchase and construction project yet, one that will “hopefully” yield its biggest ever return on investment, he said in an Instagram video that has been removed from the website.
VareCo’s business model, which it has acknowledged in videos on social media, involves a process the plaintiffs’ attorneys call a “renoviction,” according to the most-recent lawsuit.
In interviews that have recently been removed from the internet, Doyle has explained that when turning over dilapidated buildings, it is important to attract a new kind of tenant.
“If a property is in really poor condition and has roaches and mold and leaking roofs, the people that are living there are going to be different than once you renovate it,” he says in the video.
“The person that’s going to come in there and pay market rent, or sometimes above market rent for a brand-new building with amenities and everything completely brand new, they’re going to expect the same kind of person as their neighbor,” he says.
This business model, the lawsuit says, harms low-income residents and people of color, who often live in complexes slated for renovation by VareCo.
Unsanitary and unsafe living conditions
Many of the units at the Summit View Inn were dilapidated, unsanitary and unsafe before the eviction in late 2021. Residences were infested with mold, rodents, bed bugs and cockroaches. Some residents had constant plumbing and electrical issues, while others reported they did not have heat during some of the coldest months of the year.
Charlene Tilton, Ollis Knauls, and their four children, spent an entire winter without a working heater, were forced to use their oven for warmth, the lawsuit says.
When they and other residents reached out to VareCo to report the conditions, the landlord took no action to correct the problems, according to the lawsuit. When another plaintiff Jacqueline Bowen submitted a complaint to VareCo, after her air conditioning stopped working, the landlord booted her door shortly after and charged her $45 to remove the lock.
On the day of the eviction, Tilton and Knauls swiftly packed their belongings into a U-Haul trailer hitched to their pickup truck, the lawsuit says.
The family left the Summit View Inn for two hours to search for a place to spend the night. When they returned, the lock on their U-Haul had been cut and all their property had been stolen. A maintenance employee working for the landlord said a property manager told him to cut the lock, according to the lawsuit.
The family lost about $5,000 worth of belongings including jewelry, an electric scooter, work tools, laptops and tablets and all of their children’s clothes and toys. The family, and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit that seeks class-action status, now are asking the court to have those lost items returned or to be compensated for the losses.
Another plaintiff Tanya Samuel said she was charged $900 to replace a broken window in her unit, even though she did not damage it, and even though the landlord never fixed it. Written terms in the landlord’s standard packet said window damage fees are set at $300, according to the lawsuit. Samuel’s unit was booted more than 15 times. And on several of those occasions, while she slept in her car with her granddaughters, her belongings were stolen, according to the lawsuit.
In January 2021, almost a year before all residents were removed from the building, Samuel was evicted from her unit. The motel’s property manager did not cite a reason.
Tierra Allred said her car was towed from the property twice, and that she was forced to pay $380 to retrieve her vehicle the first time and $560 the second. She said the car was towed without cause both times. Her apartment was booted in July 2021, and all of her possessions were either destroyed or stolen by the defendants, the lawsuit states.
Plaintiff Bryan Hull’s unit was booted while he was in the bathroom, which locked him inside his unit, the lawsuit states.
Days before the eviction, plaintiff Norma Samuels was hospitalized for severe health complications. When she was released, she returned to the Summit View Inn, where a property manager told her she could only live in the home again if she paid $400.
Unable to afford the price, Samuels lost all of her belongings, including all of her clothing, jewelry and medications. The estimated value of that property was $2,000, the lawsuit states.
“This business model where you’ve got deep-pocketed investors or developers or others coming in and seizing on opportunities to own these long-term, extended stay rental units and then turn them over for their own profit is a very systematic problem that is far too prevalent in our community,” said David Seligman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, who is also the executive director of Towards Justice, an organization working to achieve economic justice in the workplace and rectify the imbalance of power between workers and corporations.
“It results in substantial profits for some, while at the same time displacing residents, punishing them financially, disproportionately harming people of color and communities of color,” he said. “This is a fight that we’re going to continue to take on and we’re obviously very proud to represent these clients in continuing to stand up to this kind of abuse.”