Housing

Colorado's Top Eviction Law Firm Called Out in Class-Action Case

Shawnte Warden lived at Mint Urban Infinity before being evicted.
Shawnte Warden lived at Mint Urban Infinity before being evicted. Hilal Bahcetepe
Tschetter Sulzer, a Denver law firm, bills itself as “#1 in Colorado Evictions” on its website. But according to a class-action lawsuit filed on January 31, one tool it's used to achieve that title is misleading tenants.

9to5 Colorado, which promotes various equity issues in the state including affordable housing, helped Denver resident Shawnte Warden file the class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court. It claims that Tschetter Sulzer deceives tenants with a “Stipulation” form that makes them think they will have more time to relocate if they don’t contest their eviction, and that the eviction might not be on their permanent record if they vacate their homes quickly.

“A tenant confesses judgment by signing an agreement (the agreement is called a 'Stipulation') that the tenant is not contesting the case and acknowledges that the landlord is legally entitled to possession of the property," the Tschetter Sulzer website notes.

In Colorado, when tenants do not appear in court or contest eviction cases, landlords are granted a writ for eviction that is given to the sheriff of that jurisdiction, who then schedules the physical eviction. According to Tschetter Sulzer’s website, “In most cases, sheriff’s [sic] take three to six weeks to execute a writ from the date the writ is delivered to the sheriff.”

But according to the lawsuit, when Warden lived at Mint Urban Infinity — whose tenants filed a class-action suit against the management company for poor conditions last fall — she received a notice on January 26, 2021, that she would have to appear in court on February 1 for an eviction notice. Tschetter Sulzer sent her a packet on January 31 that included a link to its website asking her to verify her identity, the suit notes; once she did that, the company sent her a link to the “Stipulation” agreement, which she then signed.

Along with implying that she would have more time to relocate by signing the agreement than if she lost in court, the law firm “also led her to believe that it if she moved out of her home and surrendered her keys before February 11, 2021, Tschetter would move the Denver County Court to vacate the judgment for possession entered against her and dismiss the eviction collection lawsuit without prejudice,” the suit says.

Warden moved out by February 4, but the suit claims that Tschetter Sulzer did not dismiss the eviction collection lawsuit as Warden believed it would. As a result, Warden’s rental application at another property in August 2021 was denied because of her past eviction.

Cesiah Guadarrama Trejo, 9to5 Colorado’s co-associate director, says that tenants who get a notice of eviction usually don’t understand their rights. “It can be really scary if you've never received a document like that to understand…what's next and what are my rights as a tenant,” she says. “We want folks to understand that there's a legal process.”

That legal process includes a trial in which the court could rule in favor of the tenant, as well as a chance for tenants to work out a solution with landlords by paying the entire amount they owe if they confess judgment. But if tenants sign a “Stipulation” like the one Tschetter Sulzer provides, she says, they lose their chance at either option.

The plaintiffs in this class-action case include over 100 people who signed the “Stipulation” and still had an eviction noted on their record; they also had to relocate more quickly than if they had gone through the entire legal process, according to the filing.

In a press release, the law firm states that “Tschetter Sulzer, P.C. contends that, at all times, it acted appropriately and the allegations in the lawsuit are groundless.” It declined to comment further. 9to5 Colorado spoke for Warden.

“Eviction and displacement is probably one of the worst things that somebody can go through,” Guadarrama Trejo says. "It kind of creates a ripple effect of other impacts in their life. Finding other housing becomes extremely difficult.”

Because Colorado’s rental market is so competitive, people with an eviction on their record are often written off as potential tenants, she adds.

“The impact that it creates for families is very real,” she says. “If folks don't have housing, how can they recover when they're sick? How can their children go to school and say, ‘I'm going to focus on school,’ when they don't know where they're going to sleep?”
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire

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