Aspen Residence Hotel owner alleges squeeze play by landlord
Longtime Aspen boutique hotel operator Terry Butler is suing her landlord and multiple defendants on allegations that they are making a push to squeeze her out of the property.
Located on South Galena Street and known for its opulent, Victorian features, the seven-suite Residence Hotel, which is part of the Aspen Block Building, has been in business for 20 years. Butler converted the apartment building to a 8,000-square-foot hotel in 1995. Butler has lived there since September 1987, when she leased an apartment unit for her own use.
“This whole thing has broken my heart,” Butler said Wednesday. “Jim Cox and I were the best of friends. We were close friends.”
Cox, who owned the Aspen Block Building, died July 29. Butler’s suit, which was filed Wednesday in Pitkin County District Court, said the James E. Cox Living Trust took over ownership of the building.
Cox and Butler, ever since their tenant-landlord relationship began, periodically agreed to lease terms that included a flat monthly rental payment. The two also agreed to share maintenance, upkeep and other costs, the suit said.
“Throughout her decades of tenancy, Ms. Butler has always paid the agreed rent in a timely fashion and has timely resolved any rent or expense issues raised either by herself or the landlord,” the suit says.
Butler always paid her rent on time, the suit says. Her most recent lease agreement called for $11,656 per month.
But earlier this year, the Cox Trust, through property manager Frias Properties, gave Butler notice that she was in arrears to the tune of $536,465, the suit says. Butler contested the amount, and in February, she received a new notice correcting the amount to $384,529, the suit says. Again she protested, receiving a third notice saying she owed $237,510.
The notices, the suit claimed, were part of a “process designed to either remove Ms. Butler from the premises or to escalate Ms. Butler’s rent beyond the rent that had been agreed to between the parties and paid over dozens of years.”
The suit accused the defendants of harassing Butler to the point that the 71-year-old woman has suffered from loss of sleep, swelling of the eyes, gastrointestinal issues “and other physical evidence of distress.”
“Ms. Butler has been building a reputation, for herself and the Residence Hotel in Aspen, for over four decades,” the suit says. “The harassment and improper conduct of the defendants has also caused Ms. Butler to take time this season away from maintaining and building her business, a business built on goodwill, which the defendants’ actions threaten.”
The suit names the following as defendants: James E. Cox Properties, James E. Cox Living Trust and various representatives of the trust. Frias Properties of Aspen LLC also is named, along with Tim Clark, who works for Frias. Clark was out of the country Thursday and could not be reached. Efforts to reach other defendants were unsuccessful, as well.
The suit seeks injunctive relief to stop the defendants from evicting Butler and her business. There also are seven other claims for relief, including breach of contract, unjust enrichment and civil conspiracy to commit theft, among others.
Butler said she invested $3 million into upgrades at the hotel and that she and Cox got along well.
“We had a wonderful agreement,” Butler said. “And if Jim were alive, we would still have this agreement. This came out of nowhere.”
The Aspen Block Building was built in 1886 by local visionaries H.P. Cowenhoven and D.R.C. Brown. During its heyday in Aspen’s silver era, it was a brothel that served miners.
Butler said when she moved into the building in the 1980s, “It was full of old drug dealers and all types of unsavory types.”
After she renovated it into a hotel, it played host to such guests as Princess Diana, Demi Moore, Gerald Ford, Rupert Murdoch and Vanna White.
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