A Denver law firm that prides itself on helping landlords speedily boot tenants who are late on rent is under fire.
A class action lawsuit filed against Tschetter Sulzer P.C. on Aug. 6 alleges the firm deceived Denver tenant Tina Franklin and over a hundred others facing eviction. The complaint states the firm mischaracterized the amount the tenants must pay to catch up on rent. The lawsuit was submitted to federal court by attorneys Steven Woodrow of Woodrow & Peluso, LLC and Jason Legg of Cadiz Law, LLC.
Tschetter faces an additional lawsuit filed in February for sending out a so-called stipulation form suggesting tenants would have more time to move if they did not oppose eviction proceedings in court. The form told tenants they could avoid an eviction on their record if they left a property quickly, Westword reported in February.
What’s the problem?
The most recent complaint alleges Tschetter is breaking Colorado law, which prohibits attorney fees from being collected from tenants before landlords have won their eviction cases against them in court. The firm has also allegedly defied a rule that blocks landlords from threatening to evict tenants because they have failed to pay late fees.
So far, those laws have gone widely untested. The attorneys backing the case hope the lawsuit creates a legal precedent and forces landlords to follow the latest rules.
The complaint portrays Tschetter as an eviction mill, using overly broad cookie-cutter forms to speed up an eviction process.
The lawsuit states those forms aren’t following current state law and the “near exhaustive list” of reasons someone might get evicted is confusing to tenants.
On Tschetter’s website, the company said it represents owners and managers of residential and commercial property in Colorado.
“Our philosophy that timely evictions save thousands in lost rental days has made us the #1 Eviction Firm in Colorado,” the company said to describe itself online.
Here’s Franklin’s story, as detailed in the complaint.
Franklin signed a lease on an apartment at the Mint Urban Infinity Apartment complex from Glendale Properties in Denver, where she lived from 2021 until May. Her rent was $1,181 plus utilities, parking and storage space. The company posted the amount due on the first of the month, and she said she regularly paid it by the 6th.
On February 1, the company posted $1,306.35 to her account. The lawsuit said she paid $1,000, leaving $306.35 unpaid. By February 7, Franklin said Glendale Properties sent her an eviction notice, called a Demand for Rent or Possession and gave her ten days to pay what she owed or she would be evicted. On top of what she owed, the lawsuit said the firm’s letter stated she would also need to pay a $50 late fee, effective February 11, and $308 in attorney fees to avoid eviction.
Franklin paid $365.35 to Glendale Properties on February 24, the balance from her rent, late fees, utilities and property fees, according to the lawsuit. Nonetheless, Tschetter sued her on behalf of her landlord on February 25, to evict her and collect money for past rent and the other amounts, including an Eviction Legal Fee, attorney fees and court costs. The amount: $664.35.
The suit against Tschetter Sulzer P.C. alleges that the paperwork sent to her suggested she would have to pay late fees and attorney fees to cure her eviction, which state law prohibits.
Eventually, Tschetter dismissed the eviction and Glendale Properties credited her account $308 for the legal fees. The lawsuit against Tschetter alleges the eviction proceedings and misleading statements caused Franklin “mental distress and anguish.” On March 17, she moved out of her home.
Franklin and her attorneys will have to prove that she’s not an exceptional case but a representative of an entire class of people harmed by similarly misleading eviction proceedings.
If they win the lawsuit, plaintiffs and their team will receive $1,000 per person, the cost of the legal proceedings and attorney’s fees.
Here’s what Tschetter Sulzer, P.C. has to say about the lawsuit.
The company denies the allegations in the suit and plans to fight the case in court.
“Tschetter Sulzer, P.C. recently was named in a lawsuit filed in federal court,” said attorney John Palmeri in a statement. He added the firm will be represented by Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani.
“Tschetter Sulzer, P.C., through its counsel, is preparing a response and will aggressively defend the lawsuit. Tschetter Sulzer, P.C. contends that, at all times, it acted appropriately and the allegations in the lawsuit are groundless.”
Why does this lawsuit matter?
The renter protections passed in 2021 give tenants facing eviction many rights designed to prevent evictions. Fees can’t stack onto overdue rent so renters have a chance to catch up. Renters also have the right to legal representation.
When many tenants face eviction and get an attorney, it’s in their best interest to cure an eviction as fast as possible. Evictions can lead to blemishes on tenants’ records, which make it difficult for them to rent elsewhere. Sometimes it’s easier for a tenant to pay extra fees than go to court.
Franklin decided she wanted to fight those extra fees and use her case to test the new laws to prevent other tenants from being exploited by misleading eviction notices from landlords.
According to Franklin’s suit, Tschetter needs to follow the law and stop taking advantage of people on the brink of losing their homes who are trying to pay what they owe by law and fulfill their contractual obligations.