That Lived-in Look

Last April, Melissa Smith paid $300,000 for a condo in Denver's booming Uptown neighborhood. She wishes she hadn't. The garage of the just-finished building at 1767 Pearl Street is already leaking, the hardwood floors inside her condo are a mess, and she can't take showers in the morning because there's no water pressure.

Over the summer, Smith wrote a letter to Triton Development, which built her condo. In it, she detailed the problems in her unit, including dents in the bathroom walls, missing trim in the kitchen, a two-foot strip of patched carpet in the hallway, and uneven floors. "My daily lifestyle has been upset by the lack of action on the part of Triton Development to complete and follow through with the representations that were made before closing," she wrote.

Now, Smith, an attorney, and her neighbors have joined condo owners in two adjoining buildings to fight Triton, which built all three. Angry homeowners are nothing new to the company: Over the past several years, Triton has been accused of shoddy construction a number of times, and these three buildings, collectively known as Pearl of the City, appear to be the latest in a long line of problem-plagued Triton properties.

Pearl of the City presents a solid three-story facade on the leafy street where it sits: Brick predominates on the lower two floors, with stucco featured on the third. Each 24-unit building opens into a courtyard, where the buildings reveal the first signs of their sloppy fit and finish. Water stains run everywhere, metal stairs and railings are rusting in many places, and the concrete is significantly cracked throughout. Metal flashing at the edge of walkways on the second and third floors is not flush, allowing water to seep into the concrete. Furthermore, some windows lack "weep holes," tiny rectangular openings that allow water to drain from the windows. Water routinely leaks into the garage and out of one of the overhead lights at 1727 Pearl. These buildings are less than a year old, but you wouldn't know it.

Ryan Martin bought a second-floor condo at 1727 Pearl last November that he rents out; he paid about $250,000 for it. "At the time, it was such a good deal," Martin says. But last spring, he noticed black mold growing on the underside of the concrete walkway on the third floor. Lawyers think the mold could be Stachybotrys chartarum, or SC, which is often found in water-damaged homes. While none of Martin's tenants has become ill, SC can lead to symptoms such as coughing, skin rash or diarrhea. "You can't build the perfect building, but the way they've been handling it is ridiculous," he says. "That leads me to believe they knew what they were doing, that they intentionally cut corners."

Attorney Doug Benson is representing the homeowners' association that governs all three buildings in mediation with Triton. The first time he visited 1747 Pearl Street, in June, it showed the "slight beginning" of damage, he says. "Now, when we have winter, the concrete is going to really crack, because it has water sitting in it."

In addition to concerns about construction, some of the condo owners whom Benson represents have complained that the complex, despite being gated, is easy to enter. They say the gates are often left open and that access doors can sometimes be found unlocked. One of the locked gates can be opened simply by slipping a hand through and pressing the door open from the inside. Benson says he saw a delivery man use a knife to pop open one of the gates.

Triton's problems began in the early 1990s, when company chief Bill Lyons was accused of bilking contractors in Southern California and the firm left an apartment complex there unfinished ("A Lot of Trouble," September 24, 1998).

In the mid-'90s, residents of a hillside condo development in Commerce City were alarmed to find their homes shifting downhill, a situation that led to major structural problems. Triton was sued, accused of failing to properly compact the soil underneath the buildings. That case, which is also being handled by Benson, is set for trial next February.

In Westminster, residents of another Triton condo project cited exposed cable boxes, detached soffitts and warped roofs as common problems. They also said the streets around the completed development still looked like part of a construction site. A sump pump even discharged water onto a grade, sending it back toward homes. A case with homeowners there was settled in April 2000, says Benson, though terms of the settlement are confidential.

And in 1999, condo buyers at a Triton project at 1747 Washington Street, a block away from Pearl of the City, were subjected to unexplained moving-in delays and found that many of the features they thought they had paid for did not exist ("Locked Out," August 5, 1999). Since that time, however, one of the residents, Giovanni Greco, says his home has increased in value. "I haven't had any problems with [Triton]," he says. "I think they're great."

Triton executive Michael Hilbert did not return several calls from Westword, and a spokeswoman for the company says Triton will have no comment.

Benson says Pearl of the City's mediation process has been frustrating. Since June, he's been trying to get a copy of the building plans, and while he believes Triton must turn over those plans under Colorado law, the developer has yet to do so. "Now I've asked the mediator to set up a separate arbitration just to try and get the plans," he says. Furthermore, Triton has claimed that the homeowners' association -- to which all of the condo owners must belong -- is technically responsible for fixing the buildings. Benson plans to challenge that. "None of the homeowners had the chance to participate in drafting that [rule]," he points out. "It just came with the territory."

"Speed and greed" is how Benson characterizes Triton's modus operandi. "They're less concerned about quality than appearance," he says.