April 3, 2003
Residents of an east-end apartment complex have less than a week to find new lodging after their building was declared a fire hazard and unsuitable for occupancy.
Ten tenants of the Shadowood Apartments, just down the street from Aspen’s Mountain Valley subdivision, were notified Tuesday that their building was in violation of multiple county fire codes. Shadowood managers reported that these violations – including faulty wiring and limited emergency exits – rendered the building unfit for residents.
The tenants were originally told to vacate their apartments by midnight Friday under orders from the Aspen fire marshal.
Shadowood tenant Jac Cashore noted the time – “exactly 8:43” – Tuesday night when he was first notified of the eviction by his property manager. Cashore received written notice at 5:18 p.m. Wednesday, just “58 hours of written notice,” he noted with annoyance.
Tenants were offered the return of their security deposits and a half-month’s rent as compensation for the inconvenience.
“But that’s not going to cover the time I have to take off of work to look for another place,” said a five-month Shadowood resident who wished to remain anonymous.
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The time crunch has created some sympathy – property managers and fire officials have extended the eviction deadline to midnight Sunday. But Shadowood residents are still questioning the review process that forced the shuttering of their home.
The Shadowood complex – owned by billionaire and part-time Aspen resident Stewart Resnick – consists of three buildings, two of which were recently renovated by owners. However, the third building – the one occupied by the 10 evicted renters – hasn’t been revamped since its construction in 1969.
However, the only reason the building received a tour by county building inspectors was the discussion of a “property swap” between Resnick and Pitkin County commissioners.
Pitkin County building inspectors first toured Shadowood last fall as county commissioners discussed the future of the Stillwater Ranch affordable housing project.
The 17-unit Stillwater project was originally slated for a spot just a half mile from the Resnick property – a plan the Resnicks challenged with a lawsuit. The proposed building site so annoyed the Resnicks that they, along with commissioners, contemplated a land swap.
“They wanted the Stillwater parcel and we wanted the Shadowood Apartments and some cash,” said Commissioner Mick Ireland.
That way, the Resnicks would obtain the Stillwater lot and keep it from development, and the county could still have an affordable housing complex, Ireland said.
Tony Fusaro, the county’s chief building official, was asked to assess the Shadowood property in late September of last year in the initial stages of the “swap talk.” Fusaro performed, among other things, a life-safety inspection – one that raised multiple concerns about fire hazards, he said.
A structural engineer was also dispatched to perform his own evaluation.
“He went through the building and documented it, and found some major structural [problems],” Fusaro said.
Fusaro combined his findings with those of the engineer, compiling a report for county commissioners in early March.
Commissioners were concerned by Fusaro’s report, and requested a second tour of the Shadowood property. Fusaro invited Aspen Fire Marshal Ed Van Walraven along for the March 21 meeting with property managers and owner’s representatives.
“The problems were still there. In fact, visiting the building a second time, I found even more problems,” Fusaro said.
This inspection revealed exposed wiring, limited emergency exits, faulty smoke detectors and poor insulation surrounding wood-burning fireplaces, Van Walraven said. Though just one or two violations could have been repaired quickly by Bundy Properties, “all of these combined necessitated some action on our part,” Van Walraven said.
“When we saw it, I honestly felt that there was a life-safety issue,” he said.
Van Walraven met with Shadowood representatives on March 21 to discuss options for the building. Though unpopular, relocation of all tenants seemed the best option, the fire marshal said.
“I would much rather take the heat for this than notify the next of kin,” he said.
The group discussed giving advance notice to the evictees, but safety matters forced them to act quickly, Van Walraven said – the usual 90-, 60- or 30-day periods were quickly rejected. Instead, the fire marshal agreed to two weeks notice.
And then, tenants say, communication broke down.
Bundy representatives wanted to consult their attorneys before alerting residents to the situation, said Eric Hittelman, owner’s representative for Bundy Properties, LLC. As Bundy Properties – Resnick’s property management business based in Los Angeles – purchased the Shadowood complex just a few years ago, the organization wished to review its obligation to the property.
“We certainly wanted to review the circumstances,” Hittelman said. “We wanted to [investigate] whether or not there was an avenue of appeal. We needed to have some research done – we didn’t want to unduly concern residents.”
Owner’s representatives did warn residents that the fire marshal had concerns about the building, and asked them to restrict certain activities – the use of candles, for example – until further notice.
After a week and a half of legal consultation, Bundy Properties dropped their inquiry and informed residents of the eviction Tuesday night.
The next day, tenants began their search for new homes – and, in some cases, legal representation.
Cashore contacted Colorado’s state housing authorities on Wednesday to discuss Bundy Properties’ offers of compensation. Cashore says he was assured that the amount offered by his landlords is well below the state minimum.
He hopes to join with his neighbors to seek a better settlement – even if an attorney is necessary, he said.
Cashore is also discouraged by his first round of apartment hunting.
“I just looked at a place, but it was a roommate situation – just a room [in a house],” said Cashore, a sales rep for a wine wholesaler. “I’ve got too much junk and too much wine for that.”
One consolation: Van Walraven says the tenants can store their possessions at Shadowood until they secure new housing.
“They don’t have to get their belongings out – we just want them out of harm’s way,” the fire marshal said.
Left behind to protect these belongings – and, until Sunday night, the remaining residents – is the “fire watch” established after the March 21 inspection. A guard patrols the Shadowood complex from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day to keep an eye out for further fire hazards.
Once the building has been cleared of both people and property, it will be boarded up to prevent “transient occupation.” Bundy Properties’ reps haven’t decided whether it will then be renovated or simply torn down.
Worried Shadowood tenants aren’t sure where to turn, but many think they know who to blame for their situation. Some are pointing fingers at county officials anxious for a new housing complex.
“I think the county is retaliating for all the problems they’re having getting employee housing out there,” Cashore said.