Apartment Firm in FBI Raid Has Shaky Reputation Among Denver Residents | Westword

Denver Tenants Speak Out After Apartment Firm Raided by FBI

Some of Cortland's Denver tenants say they're not getting what they pay for, with or without the alleged price-fixing.
Cortland Cap Hill is one of fourteen Cortland housing properties in the Denver area.
Cortland Cap Hill is one of fourteen Cortland housing properties in the Denver area. Thomas Mitchell
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Earlier in June, the FBI raided the Atlanta headquarters of apartment management company Cortland as part of an ongoing investigation into a rental price-fixing scheme by software firm RealPage.

Cortland owns and manages fourteen buildings in the Denver area, and residents at several of its properties say they've faced lackluster attitudes to maintenance, year-over-year rent increases and poor security.

“Every time we would address something with them — the trash, the pool, the hot tub — it was always, ‘Well, the residents aren't treating the property right, so we're taking away those benefits,’” says former resident Courtney Howland, who lived at Cortland Gateway Park in northeast Denver with her family until this spring. “It was almost like a prison.”

Cortland is not the focus of the FBI’s investigation, but is allegedly one of at least 21 large landlords that used RealPage’s services to increase the price of rent nationwide. According to the FBI, major apartment companies worked together to set prices instead of competing, with over 70 percent of multi-family apartment buildings nationwide having employed RealPage’s services since 2016.

Vikki Migoya, public affairs officer with FBI Denver, confirms that the FBI Atlanta Field Office was at Cortland headquarters “conducting court-authorized activity.”

Cortland also confirms that the FBI executed a search warrant at its headquarters.

“We are cooperating fully with that investigation, and we understand that neither Cortland nor any of our employees are ‘targets’ of that investigation,” Cortland says in a statement. “Due to the ongoing litigation, we cannot comment further at this time.”

But Cortland's Denver tenants have plenty to say.

Ryan Rasmussen, who has lived at Cortland Cap Hill since 2022, once saw an error while paying rent that showed up as a “price optimizer” line item of $337.42, which he documented and shared with Westword.

“It's normally just included in what is listed as my rent for that month,” he says. “I only saw that line item once, which is why I took a screenshot. I've been following this RealPage story for long enough that I had an idea of what I was seeing.”

Rasmussen says he has generally enjoyed his time living at Cortland Cap Hill but “chuckled” when he saw what could be an indication of RealPage’s influence on his monthly bills.

Other residents have been much more unsatisfied with their living situations while still experiencing yearly rent increases, however. Rachel DiPretoro, who has lived in her Cortland on Blake apartment since 2020, says most of the building's exterior doors, such as those connecting the parking garage to units, are falling off the hinges and making her feel unsafe.

Residents have paid a fee for common-area utilities since last year, which DiPretoro doesn’t appreciate, given the lack of functioning doors and poor indoor temperature regulation.

“Last year, they did a full lobby remodel and a pool update,” she says. “That's not what needed to be updated. There's so many other parts of this building falling apart, and you guys updated the lobby?”
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One longtime Cortland on Blake resident says the complex ignores her maintenance requests.

DiPretoro admits her apartment likely costs less than she would find on the open market, so she plans to stay and deal with the problems — but she also believes management wants her to leave.

“They're trying to push me out so they can increase the rent,” DiPretoro argues.

Other residents are unhappy with the amount of fees tacked onto rent by Cortland, too. Brian Scott lives at Cortland Alameda Station near Interstate 25 and Broadway. He pays $2,460 per month for his two-bedroom apartment, but pays much more per month for utilities, including a stormwater drainage fee and a 3 percent convenience charge to pay rent online, which he says is the only option given to pay rent.

“That's an extra, for me, $76 and change every month just to be able to pay my rent,” Scott says.

He says he's dealt with numerous maintenance issues in his time at Cortland, including a pervasive cat urine odor when he first moved in. Though the response was quick, he says management would only pay to have the carpet replaced in one room, because the other room didn’t smell as bad. Scott ended up paying for that carpet to be professionally cleaned himself.

When Scott's garbage disposal broke, he says it took almost a month for it to be fixed, and no one from apartment management reached out to him until a week after his submitted work order. After two postponements and an attempted third by the maintenance worker, the repair took ten minutes.

“I don't know why they were trying to put it off yet again, when he had it done in ten minutes,” Scott says.

The elevators have regularly been broken at Cortland Alameda Station, according to Scott. He says that doesn’t impact him personally, but he knows some of his neighbors have mobility impairments and believes that elevators should work at the luxury price point residents are charged.

Luxurious Advertising, Poor Maintenance Allegations

Howland cites luxury pricing and advertising as one reason her family’s stay at Cortland was particularly upsetting.

“Their website, if you look at it, it looks like a five-star resort,” she says. “They had the heated pool that was open all year round, they had a hot tub, they had a sauna. They advertised community events, like food truck nights, Christmas, [meeting the] Easter Bunny.”

But when the family's arranged move-in date arrived, they ended up having to stay at a hotel for a week because their unit wasn't ready yet. And when they finally got into an apartment, Howland says it wasn’t five-star at all.

Howland recalls a missing medicine cabinet, shower head and shower curtain bars in the bathroom, and a hole in the boiler closet door.
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The trash overflowed at Cortland Gateway Park last year.
Courtesy Courtney Howland

“It was near-uninhabitable,” Howland says. “The curtain rods never came. The medicine cabinet came about a week later, but it was used and we noticed that they had just pulled it from another unit. They never mentioned the hole in the furnace door again.”

The door was fixed eventually, but the community pool and hot tub were both closed for nearly the entire time the Howlands lived at Cortland Gateway Park, allegedly because children had thrown rocks in the pool, necessitating a lengthy repair. Community events that had been advertised never happened, Howland adds.

But the worst part was that management allowed trash to build up for three months in the dumpster area, she alleges; at one point, eighteen inches of trash covered the ground.

“It's starting to flow out of the dumpster container area and into the streets,” Howland recalls. “There's raccoons all around the apartment complex. … I sent them an email asking them what's going on with the trash situation, and they pretty much told me, ‘Well, you guys don't use the dumpsters properly, and so this just is what it is. It's not our fault.’”

Howland says Cortland blamed the trash contractor for not fulfilling its duties, too — but her husband, Hunter, works for that company and says picking up trash strewn across the ground is not within its purview.

In downtown Denver, there’s been a leak in DiPretoro’s apartment since she moved in. When Cortland finally came to make repairs, maintenance staff painted over the water damage rather than replacing the drywall and checking for mold.

“When they were painting it over, they got paint on the back of my couch, all over the floor,” DiPretoro says. “The leak has damaged my wooden antique table and a family cookbook that I had on the shelf.”

When her air conditioner broke this spring, DiPretoro submitted a maintenance request. Management responded by saying her unit does not have air conditioning, but DiPretoro had lived in the apartment for three years with air conditioning at that point.

Security Issues at Cortland's Denver Properties

Scott pays for a spot at Cortland Alameda Station's parking garage, but still had his Jeep Wrangler vandalized. He says when he asked to see video footage to give to the police, he was told the building’s security cameras hadn’t caught anything.

“I've escorted probably five or six homeless people out of the garage,” Scott adds.

Worse, one day someone was able to walk straight into his apartment even though the door was locked. Scott yelled at the intruder, who ran off. When he reported it to Cortland, the building manager informed him that the person who entered his apartment was a tenant from two leases ago who still had a working key fob to his unit.

“There's a lot of women in their mid-to-late twenties that live in this building,” Scott says. “I would not want any of my friends or family members who are single women living in this building. I would not feel safe or comfortable with it at all.”

The same went for the Howlands and their two young children.

“They said online the community was gated, you had to have a code to get in, so it was very secure,” Howland recalls. “The entire time we went there the gates, the main gate and the side gate did not work. They were wide open the entire time.”

She says security was lax and police were constantly being called to the property. Additionally, the playground equipment had many loose nails and was in general disrepair, to the extent that Howland did not feel it was safe for her children to play there.
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Some of the water damage in Rachel DiPretoro's Cortland apartment.
Rachel DiPretoro

When she wrote a one-star review about her experience, she says Cortland retaliated against her, issuing a lease violation that said she would be evicted if she persisted with spreading negative information about the property.

“The way that it was worded basically said, ‘You are not allowed to say anything negative about us, you cannot leave a negative review because it creates a problem for us getting new rentals,’” Howland says. ‘“You are not allowed to do our say anything that prevents us from being able to run the community.’”

She took down the review out of fear of eviction, but the family left as soon as they could, even though it meant paying rent on top of a mortgage for two months.

Scott says he plans to stay at Alameda Station because the location is great, but he intends to reduce to a one-bedroom to save money. However, he recently got in a spat with building management and says he doesn’t know if they will let him stay now.

Management sent an email letting all residents know that a fire inspector could be coming by over a two-day span, but that message went to Scott’s spam folder.

“While I was working, the manager and someone from the fire inspection company just walked into my unit, which I was not happy about,” he says. “There were some choice words said at that moment.”

Scott argues that even if he had seen the email, he doesn’t find a two-day window appropriate for no-knock entry.

Howland and DiPretoro have had communication problems with Cortland, as well: Howland says she was hung up on by management when she asked to leave a message for a supervisor. DiPretoro says Cortland repeatedly claims to have called her to schedule repair times, but she says those calls have never come through, even checking with her phone company to see if there was a problem with her service.

Both women believe their numbers have been blocked by Cortland. After Howland’s one-star review, she says she was never able to get in contact with a helpful person on staff.

“A few times, actually, I had called the front office and left messages, and they told me they had tried to contact me back but my number in the system was blocked,” she alleges.

DiPretoro says when she calls from her cell phone, building management doesn’t answer. But when she calls from a friend’s phone, Cortland staff will answer right away.

“I think I'm annoying them so much that they're just flat out ignoring me,” she says.

DiPretoro, Howland and Scott say they've all dealt with staff members who had good intentions and listened to their concerns, but feel the overall system is designed to be unhelpful to tenants. However, Rasmussen, along with some others who have written online comments about Cortland, haven’t had negative experiences.

“The staff here, the office staff and maintenance staff, are all very nice and personable,” Rasmussen says. “In general, my maintenance requests are handled in a timely manner, and I have not had any issues in this regard. The common areas are kept clean and in working order.”

Cortland did not respond to requests for comment regarding allegations by current and former residents.
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