Housing

Class Lawsuit Against Top Eviction Firm Tschetter Sulzer Can Continue

One eviction firm is accused of misleading practices.
One eviction firm is accused of misleading practices. Getty Images
A class-action lawsuit against the Tschetter Sulzer law firm, which calls itself “#1 in Colorado Evictions” on its website, can continue despite the firm's attempts to have the case dismissed.

In a December 5 order, Judge Charlotte N. Sweeney of the United States District Court ruled that contrary to what Tschetter Sulzer had argued, the federal court has jurisdiction over the case because Tschetter Sulzer’s actions regarding a Stipulation and Advisement form qualify as debt-collection practices under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, adopted by Congress in 1977 and last amended in 2010.

Shawnte Warden is the class representative whose experience is discussed in detail in the lawsuit, originally filed on January 31. 9to5 Colorado, which promotes equity issues in the state including affordable housing, helped Warden file the lawsuit; Jason Legg of Cadiz Law and state representative Steven Woodrow are the attorneys on the case.

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; 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 firm “also led her to believe that 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 original filing noted.

Warden moved out by February 4, 2021, but Tschetter Sulzer did not dismiss the eviction collection lawsuit until after Warden filed the class-action lawsuit over a year later. As a result, Warden’s rental application at another property in August 2021 was denied because of her past eviction.

“That's a problem that, in mass, affects Colorado renters,” Legg says. “We'll find out through discovery, but it seems like they don't really follow up, and what that means is that eviction case records can haunt tenants — the thousands that they evict every year.”

Legg describes Tschetter Sulzer’s attempt to convince the court to dismiss the case as an attempt to escape accountability, calling its argument that its actions don’t relate to debt collections activity “somewhat silly.”

Attorneys can fall under the category of debt collector if a high volume of their business relates to collecting consumer debt; Tschetter Sulzer’s argument was that the stipulation agreement at the center of Warden’s suit is specifically not related to debt collection. But the court disagreed, ruling that Warden could have interpreted the action as debt collection and that document would free her from monetary and eviction claims.

“Applying the reasonable consumer standard," the order says, "it finds that Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged facts that she interpreted the representations in the Stipulation and Advisement to mean that she could stay within her rental residence for additional time and that any money claims against her would be dismissed upon vacating the unit.”

Now the case will continue with discovery and class certification before trial. The plaintiffs in this class-action case include over 100 people who signed the stipulation agreement 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 original filing.

“We can get a really big win for Colorado renters,” Legg says, adding that he thinks Tschetter Sulzer "acknowledged, in the documents that we referenced in our complaint, that they're aware that their stipulation and the practice of presenting it to tenants is misleading.”
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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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