DENVER — Just one year after moving into Denver's Viña Apartments — which promised affordable housing — tenants told Denver7 in February that the property notified them of a 12% rent increase.
While some tenants are still at risk of losing their homes, they say they are dealing with even more issues at the property located in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood. So they've reached out to Contact Denver7 again for help.
More than 40 tenants formed a group called Viña Apartments Tenants Union, thanks to help from the Denver Aurora Tenants United group.
"There's no formal legal recognition of tenant unions in Colorado yet," said Bruno Tapia, founding organizer of the Denver Aurora Tenants United group.
Rather, these groups operate as an advocacy group to help tenants streamline communication and navigate through grievances with landlords across the Denver metro.
The group on Tuesday sent Syringa Property Management, the company that manages the apartments, and Columbia Ventures, the ownership group, a list of demands and complaints.
In part, the group is upset with twice-charged rent, incorrect fees, a lack of transparency, prolonged maintenance repairs and more.
Tenant Matt Lapitski gave Denver7 an example of the lack of transparency he's experienced, showing his "electric bill" that was posted to his door a few days ago.
The bill only contained the date, his address number and "Electric Bill Due: $48.41." No other information was on the so-called bill.
"There's no service period, no kilowatt hour, beginning ending usage rate, nothing. I'm just supposed to trust them," Lapitski said.
Of course, trust is a sensitive matter for tenants promised affordable housing after the 12% rent hike.
"The management company and the developer are very insistent on dealing with residents as individuals," Lapitski said. "The problem with that is when you go in as an individual, you are easily manipulated. So one of the principles that I am so behind the tenant union is that now they know when they are talking to someone individually, they are talking to all of us."
Denver7 took some of the concerns listed out in the demand letter straight to Colombia Ventures.
"I think that there is some accuracy in what they're saying," said Dillon Baynes, Columbia Ventures' managing partner.
Baynes made clear that he did not agree with everything in the letter, such as shoddy accounting practices regarding who paid rent and who didn't.
"We have complete records, have every payment in individual folders in the office, including the Xeroxes of their checks, and we have corroborating deposit records for them," Baynes said.
Baynes also told Denver7 that the apartment is struggling with receiving rent.
"We have a giant delinquency problem at Viña. It's almost $300,000 in rents that have not been paid ... We want to help with that," he said.
Regardless, Baynes acknowledged that their are issues at the apartment complex, which attributed in part to the old management group.
"I think it's a combination of growing pains, an underperforming management company that's no longer there, and a serious delinquency problem," Baynes said.
Columbia Ventures hired Syringa Property Management, which started on April 1.
Even they have some room for growth, according to tenants. Under their management, Lapitski received the utility bill with insufficient details on it, which Columbia Ventures acknowledged.
"That's got to change. That's got to change, I agree," Baynes said. "I want you to know that we have stumbled in the past, and we made a big change and we're gonna win with this new change. We're committed to it. We're a 32-year-old affordable housing company based out of Atlanta. We are long-term in Colorado, and we're gonna make this right."
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