Music student sues over rented room
An Aspen Music Festival and School student is suing two convicted felons who allegedly rented him an uninhabitable room contaminated by asbestos, urine and trash.Tim Wootton, a 24-year-old trumpeter from Tempe, Ariz., said a list of available rooms from the music school’s Office of Student Services included Elliot Branson’s rental.He exchanged several e-mails with Branson and agreed to pay $600 a month for a room at 1230 E. Cooper Ave., for June, July and August. As part of the agreement, Wootton paid first and last months’ rent.He said he arrived at 1 a.m. on June 15. A separate entrance to the room allows the renter to go in and out without entering the rest of the home. But the outside area was “kind of like a landfill,” Wootton said.”There was about 4 feet of trash packed outside the door. I could barely open the door,” he said.Inside there was no ceiling, Wootton alleged. “It was just insulation. There was asbestos, there were holes in the insulation. The insulation was literally falling off.”There was also mold growing on the walls, and “it looked like there was urine on the floor.” He spent the night on the room’s couch but said he had an allergic reaction to something the next morning.Wootton told music school officials about the conditions when he registered later that day. He quickly found another room, but his lawsuit says Branson refuses to return the $1,200 in rent money. Wootton referred to the defendant as “Elliot.”Elliot is Branson’s middle name; his first is Donald. He pleaded guilty to menacing and criminal extortion, both felonies, in 2004. He was originally charged with attempted murder for slicing the chin of his ex-wife’s boyfriend the previous year. Pamela Branson, also a defendant in the lawsuit and the owner of the home, was convicted of cocaine possession in 2005.Wootton’s plight began when he obtained the housing list in April. On a tight budget, the Arizona State University graduate student said he chose the cheapest room.Sandy Goers, the music school’s housing coordinator, said the background of people offering rentals are not checked.”There’s no way we can do that,” she said.The school’s website repeatedly warns students who use the list that the school “serves only as a referral for available housing and does not guarantee the quality of any listing.”The Aspen Music School is not responsible for any problems with housing obtained from this listing,” the site says.Goers did acknowledge that had Branson used his first name, she would have recognized it.”But I don’t know that I would have done anything differently,” she said. “It truly is unfortunate.”Branson said Monday he had not seen the lawsuit and refused comment.After paying his new landlord for rent, Wootton said he was left with about $100 for the nine-week summer session. He spoke with Goers and the school’s dean, Joan Gordon, and they agreed to refund half of his tuition.”The dean was very gracious,” he said.Goers, however, called the $1,200 payment a loan. Wootton used the money to rent the new room and to “put a little gas in the car.”Wootton, who is studying with the Juilliard School’s trumpet faculty while here, said next time he will likely ask for pictures of the room before agreeing to a lease.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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