Landlord has brush with law firm over Aspen construction |

Landlord has brush with law firm over Aspen construction

Construction at the Durant Mall condominium forced an Aspen law firm to find another address. The firm is suing its landlord in Pitkin County District Court over what it calls "constructive eviction."
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

An Aspen law firm claims it was forced to leave its offices at the Durant Mall because construction-caused racket, dust and other deterrents made it impossible to do business.

Whatley Kallas LLP, a national healthcare-litigation firm with a two-attorney office in Aspen, sued its landlord Monday in Pitkin County District Court through attorney Corey T. Zurbuch of the firm Oates, Knezevich, Gardenswartz, Kelly & Morrow PC.

Whatley Kallas is seeking a refund of its security deposit in the amount of $10,000, which it claims its landlord is withholding, along with other damages that include the cost of the firm’s relocation.

“I’m sorry it’s come to this,” said Joe Whatley Jr., one of two attorneys who works at the Aspen office.

The firm has offices throughout the country, including its administrative headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama.

“We thought we had a nice, workable office that we enjoyed going to, but unfortunately we couldn’t work there any longer.”

Property records show the landlord, CCI-Aspen, owns a combination of 23 commercial units and parking spaces at the Durant Mall, the condominium building located next to City Market that includes the Great Western Grog Shop and other businesses.

CCI Aspen, which bought the property for $3.265 million in November 2013, is affiliated with Austin, Texas-based real estate development firm Capital Commercial Investments Inc. The firm’s executive vice president of operations, Andrew Doughtie, identified by the lawsuit as the point person for the redevelopment of Durant Mall, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The law firm, before it moved out of the building Dec. 29, had leased two units above the Stash pot shop since October 2013, and renewed it in September 2016 through Oct. 31, 2019, according to the complaint.

In December 2016, the landlord began construction work on the building’s hallway and bathrooms, without notice to the law firm, “which had scheduled meetings that were severely impacted,” the suit alleges. “In fact, the meetings were moved to a nearby hotel because conducting any meeting was impossible.”

Said Whatley Jr.: “I know a lot of people don’t like to hear from a lawyer, but when you can’t have a conversation with somebody, it’s hard to practice law.”

Construction-related woes for the law firm extended into the following January, when a leak occurred above its offices, forcing the attorneys to do business elsewhere, and again in June 2017, when more leaks occurred and the offices’ air conditioner broke down, the suit alleges.

The problems persisted that summer, when the water was cut off and the door to the building’s staircase was jammed, the suit says. All the while, the landlords cast blame for the problems on the Durant Mall’s condominium association, the suit alleges.

Compounding the firm’s frustration was the lack of updates about construction work from CCI, the suit says, adding that exterior and interior work that started in September 2017 was the tipping point.

“Over the fall of 2017, the ‘challenges’ became progressively worse and intolerable,” the suit says. “On November 28, 2017, tenant (the law firm) came to work to find the units completely flooded, along with debris and contamination throughout. Debris and dust covered the desks, computers, equipment and records. Contractors were drilling a hole in the units. Extensive clean-up work was required. Use of the units was yet again impossible.”

By December, the firm told its landlord it planned to vacate the property. The landlord, however, demanded that the firm pay $9,749 for its lease-termination fee, which it did, the suit says. But the landlord balked on that agreement, instead applying that amount to what it said the firm owed in back rent, the suit says. The law firm, however, claims that it was current on its rent payments, according to the complaint.

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