Blood is spattered across the ceiling of a laundry room, a few feet from Laurie-Ann Mills’ apartment, likely from people who break into the complex and use intravenous drugs hastily or incorrectly.
A gap between her apartment door and the frame allows noise to easily travel into Mills’ apartment. Her countertops are peeling. Several electrical outlets are broken. A sink in her living room produces yellow water. Her dishwasher leaks onto the kitchen floor. One-half of her apartment occasionally loses power. Cars, packages and apartments are repeatedly broken into or stolen. And a neighbor, who has since moved, was stabbed last year while smoking a cigarette in the parking lot of her East Cedar Avenue apartment complex in Denver.
And as unsolved problems keep piling up, the rent keeps rising.
“Overall, we get less and less and less, and they want more and more and more, and most of us are outright being denied services,” she said. “And those of us like me who stand up are being threatened of (losing our) home.”
After years of being unheard by their local landlords, Mills and dozens of her neighbors went straight to the source Thursday and attempted to crash the Apartment Association of Metro Denver awards ceremony to draw attention to their plight. Almost 100 people marched from Playa del Carmen Park in Glendale to Infinity Park Event Center where landlords were receiving awards and installing a new Apartment Association of Metro Denver board.
Laurie-Ann Mills, a community leader and activist, has lived at the Lex at Lowry in southeast Denver for over three years. She says her complex’s maintenance department has ignored numerous complaints of eroding countertops, leaking appliances, faulty electrical outlets, potentially contaminated water, stolen packages and more.(Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
Outside the event center, Colorado Homes for All, a statewide grassroots coalition that believes housing is a human right, joined the group of renters and organized their own award ceremony.
They called it the “Slummy Awards” or the “Slummies.” After detailing their complaints, attendees said it was absurd their landlords were being honored a few blocks from where their housing needs are going unmet.
“The metro Denver landlord lobby is having their fancy cocktail hour and banquet dinner to pat themselves on the back but we’re here fighting for our communities by joining together and speaking out against corporate greed,” said Monique Gant, a member of United For A New Economy, one of the organizations comprising Colorado Homes for All.
“In the last year, we have dealt with ridiculous raises in rent, threats of eviction, unlivable, disgusting conditions and when we ask to be treated with respect and dignity, our landlords send their management companies to give us the runaround,” she said.
Mills was the first resident to speak during the “Slummies” event. She said her base rent will jump to $2,005 from $1,835 in September, and that she struggles to follow a budget, because her landlord charges a long list of additional fees on top of rent each month that usually fluctuate without an explanation. When she formed a tenant collective to review renters’ rights, her building manager said he would not renew her lease if she continued doing activism on the property.
When Mills complains, her property manager, CIM Group, usually doesn’t respond. When maintenance workers do review her requests, they often argue with her and say she doesn’t need any repairs. Maintenance requests are denied so often, it looks like residents are neglecting their units, which puts them at higher risk for eviction, Mills said during a tearful interview last week.
Mills has lived at her apartment complex for three years, and like many others in the building, she can’t afford to move elsewhere while living on disability benefits and a capped income.
CIM Group said in a statement Friday that it holds property management staff at Mills’ apartment complex and its other buildings across the U.S. to high standards and requires that maintenance comply with fair housing laws and other regulations.
“CIM Group acquired The Lex at Lowry apartment community in June 2021 and immediately undertook a program of property improvements to address years of deferred maintenance at this vast, 710-unit community that was built in 1972,” the representative wrote. The company said it recently modernized elevators in all six towers in Mills’ building.
The building’s staff received building maintenance training and an online portal was set up for residents to submit concerns, the statement said.
Over the past four years, rent prices in Denver increased 13.8% to $1,568 by April compared with $1,378 in April 2019, according to reporting by The Colorado Sun.
Meanwhile, the national average cost of moving is about $1,400 for a two-person moving team completing a local move of less than 100 miles, according to Forbes Home, an editorial organization helping people improve their living quarters.
Shannon Hoffman, who ran unsuccessfully for Denver City Council to represent District 10 this year, said she used wet washcloths to stay cool on warm nights when her air conditioning broke in her apartment. When she asked her landlord to replace the AC, she was told she was not allowed to have air conditioning in her unit. Water cycles between scalding hot and freezing cold in her apartment at times. And the building’s management company has on occasion failed to pay bills on time causing residents to lose water for several days.
In late July, her rent increased $200 per month with no improvements to the space. She only had 15 days to make a decision to renew her lease, she said.
“I knew with my political engagement that this was not legal but even with this knowledge and some supports in place, I could not gather legal support to fight this matter,” she said as she became tearful.
Organizers began chanting as the group marched toward the apartment association awards. Before the larger group arrived, a few renters and organizers had already made their way into the apartment association’s awards ceremony.
Several people were accepting awards when five or six residents walked onto the stage. “I started saying that it’s not a landlord association. It’s a slumlord association,” said Gant, who lives in Westminster. “And that’s when they really got upset.”
People at the corporate awards pushed protesters off the stage and escorted them out of the building, she said. “Either way it goes, the word is going to get out.”
Thursday night’s Metro Denver Apartment Association award ceremony honored volunteers and leaders who organize events and opportunities for the industry and give back to the community, according to Jaime Gardner, a representative for the organization.
The apartment association provides ongoing training for its members to ensure maintenance professionals provide adequate services, Gardner said.
Apartment association awards leaders were unaware protesters would attempt to crash the event, said Carmen Medrano, executive director at United For A New Economy.
This past legislative session, Colorado Homes for All worked on passing two bills at the legislature including Just Cause for Evictions, which would have required landlords to have a good cause to evict tenants, and Repealing a Prohibition on Local Rent Control, which would have given counties and local municipalities the power to ensure there are reasonable rent increases within their city or county.
“And the Metro Denver Apartment Association very vocally said they were going to ensure that both of these bills didn’t pass and they prioritized corporate greed over renters in Colorado,” Medrano said. “And both of these bills died in the Senate. And we believe it’s really the apartment association that ensured that this happened.”
The apartment association instead supports increasing the supply of housing to ensure all Coloradans have the housing they need, Gardner said.
Cars honked and people waved from their balconies as protesters marched back to Playa del Carmen Park. As demonstrators dispersed, the rain commenced again.