Bugging Out

There are a few things Danielle Marie Dixon doesn't like about her east Denver apartment. There's the toilet on the sagging floor that she worries is about to collapse into the apartment below. There's the crumbling tilework in the shower, so powdery she has to rinse her hair three times to remove the grout. And don't forget the unwanted visitors who've taken over the closet.

"Do you want to see them?" she asks.
The closet door opens, presenting a scene reminiscent of the E.G. Marshall episode in the horror flick Creepshow. Dozens of cockroaches swarm across the back of the door, the walls and the floor of the closet, fleeing from the light.

Diagnosed with depression, Dixon pays $350 a month, including utilities, for her one-bedroom apartment out of benefits she receives as a client of the Mental Health Corporation of Denver. She says her MHCD case manager helped her draft a letter to her landlord noting the unsatisfactory condition of the place, which she's rented since January--to no avail. "He says he'll fix things when he gets damn good and ready," she says.

What separates Dixon's complaints from the usual landlord-tenant dispute is that her apartment is managed--along with nine other units in two dilapidated turn-of-the-century buildings on Uinta Street, a block off East Colfax Avenue--by Taki "Pete" Dadiotis, the ebullient restaurateur best known for his crusade to transform a six-block strip of East Colfax into Greek Town, Denver's first officially designated ethnic neighborhood. A proud immigrant with strong ties to several city administrators and high-ranking cops as well as to the Greek business community, Dadiotis has vowed to "clean up" Colfax and transform it into a cultural mecca ("It Takes a Greek Town," July 31).

"He was promising to fix things from the day I moved in," says Roxanne Hamilton, a former waitress at Dadiotis's Greektown Cafe who lived in one of the Uinta apartments for several months before being evicted two weeks ago. "He wants other people to fix up their properties, but he can't even take care of his own place."

Dadiotis doesn't own the buildings on Uinta Street, but the properties have been in his family for more than a decade, and he's been managing them since 1993. He claims to have invested "about a hundred thousand dollars" in repairs since that time and blames the problems on irresponsible tenants.

"The problem with the buildings is you have some people who are a little difficult," he says. "I offer a real cheap price, so I don't have the president of IBM there. I'm trying to do the best I can to bring everything up to code and take care of it. They know they're not living on the Riviera."

City records indicate a history of housing-code violations on the properties dating back to the fall of 1993, when the Department of Health and Hospitals declared one unit unfit for human habitation and the owners evicted several tenants in order to make needed repairs. Some of the tenants, who claimed to have been living without heat, hot water or electricity before the evictions, embarked on a lawsuit against Dadiotis and other family members that was finally dismissed two years later. A 1995 inspection uncovered several violations, including sewer odors and cockroach infestation; an inspection last month of only four of the ten units cited fifteen violations, including torn carpets, cracked walls, broken windows and light fixtures, a lack of heat in one unit, and a general cockroach problem that was described as "particularly bad" in Dixon's apartment.

Several of the tenants have been employees of the Greektown Cafe. "Almost everybody who's lived here has done something for Taki at one time or another," says Hamilton.

Dadiotis says the latest complaints were fostered by Hamilton, who'd "said she was going to make trouble for me" after he fired her from her job at the restaurant. "She does have her problems," he says. "She wants to run my business."

Hamilton says she'd tried to get Dadiotis to do something about the problems in her apartment--including a torn carpet, windows that were cracked or painted shut and the persistent roaches--for months before he evicted her for refusing to pay her rent. "He would just say, 'Do whatever you want. Nothing's going to happen,'" she says.

Although Hamilton and another person say Dadiotis promised to replace her ripped and dingy carpet, he denies it. "She has two cats," he notes. "I'm waiting for her to leave before I fix things, because otherwise I'm wasting my money. I did tell them [I was going] to put new linoleum in the kitchen. But after that, she starts getting nasty and not paying the rent."

Dadiotis also blames Dixon for the cockroach invasion in her apartment, saying that she and her boyfriend don't protect their food adequately. "I never had a cockroach before," he says, contradicting the 1995 inspection. "I can't train the people how to eat in their apartment."

Dixon says the roaches were already in residence when she moved in but have since increased. She'd lived in another Dadiotis-managed apartment before, she adds, until "Taki gave me a verbal eviction and changed the locks" because she hadn't paid the rent in protest of a broken water heater and a leaky bathtub and toilet. She lived in a motel for a while but couldn't find another apartment in her price range that would allow pets.

"So I had to go back to Taki," she explains. "I have a few canned goods in the cupboard, and all my other food stays in the refrigerator. I have to hide my dog's food and scoop roaches out of the water dish."

Dadiotis has thirty days to correct the latest round of violations or face the possibility of court action. James Lastoka, the public-health sanitarian who's inspected the properties several times over the past few years, notes that past complaints have been addressed and views the violations as "not unusual for rental property." Some problems, he suggests, could be corrected quickly if tenants would notify him.

"I never saw a landlord that brought cockroaches into his own unit," Lastoka says. "It's usually a fifty-fifty deal. If it was a single-family home, it would be the tenants' responsibility. The only sure method of control is to do a treatment of the whole building or the affected units, because once they're there, they're going to spread."

Hamilton says other tenants have tried to persuade Dadiotis to bring in an exterminator, but he hasn't responded to their pleas. For his part, Dadiotis says he's had it with the kind of tenants his low-rent apartments seem to attract.

"Anytime anything's wrong, I fix it," he says. "They destroy the furniture every two, three months. I got carpets. They destroy the carpets."

Although he insists the buildings will be fully repaired before the thirty-day grace period has expired, he adds, "The people you have over there, you're going to have problems all the time. I don't know from day to day what's going to happen there. I'm selling it. I'm tired of dealing with people who are only looking for a free ride."

Dixon says she isn't looking for a free ride, just a clean, well-lit apartment at a price she can afford. She hasn't found it yet. "I think people should know," she says, "what kind of places he's renting out here."

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