Past Due

Their story usually goes like this. Juan is a disabled ex-Marine living on a monthly check from the Department of Veterans Affairs. His wife, Brenda, is a homemaker who occasionally takes in babysitting money. They have three children -- two girls and a boy. They think the house is beautiful, and if you rent it to them, they'd like to stay for at least two years, maybe even fix up a few things, take care of the yard.

They don't have any references because they've been living in Juan's mother's home, which they inherited, in the little southern Colorado town of Saguache, but they'll be glad to fill out everything else on the rental application. They've moved to Denver to be closer to Brenda's sick father, who is in a nearby hospital.

Brenda, a big woman with blond, braided pigtails, is 42. She'll charm you with her sweet smile. Juan, 57, is a short, round man with a dark ponytail. He's a little rough around the edges, but then, he's a Vietnam veteran.

Now you've met the Manchegos, and this is the last time you'll ever have a nice thought about them.

The initial sign of trouble comes after you hand over the keys to your rental property. Brenda will pay the first month's rent with hundred-dollar bills or a money order rather than a personal check, but she won't have quite enough for the security deposit. Her husband's disability check from the VA was late again, she'll tell you. She's sure it will arrive soon.

Then things start to get really weird.

David Stone knows this story. He knows the Manchegos all too well.

David and his wife, Andrea, moved to Denver four years ago from Bishop, California, a small town where David was raised and owns two rental properties. "That's why I'm naive," he says. "A credit check is nonexistent there." In Bishop, David relies on his father, who knows everyone in town, for references on potential renters.

Since his dad doesn't know anyone in Denver, David decided to invest in a nice property here so that he'd only have to deal with the sort of people who could afford a monthly rent of $1,500. "I didn't want to be a slumlord," he says. In August last year, he bought a 1927 brick bungalow at 680 Cherry Street for $308,000 and then spent several thousand dollars more to renovate the bathroom, paint and do minor repairs.

A few months later, Brenda Manchego saw the "For Rent" sign in the yard and called the Stones. "She said her husband is an ex-Marine who needs back surgery, which is why they need to be close to the hospital," David says. "She said they didn't have any references because they'd owned a house in a small town somewhere in southern Colorado, but that they were in Denver because her dad was in the hospital and they wanted to be close to him, too.

"It was a fairly tight story," he adds.

Brenda agreed to pay $750, a half-month's rent, so that she could move in on November 15, plus the last month's rent of $1,500. "The first day, she was a hundred bucks short and she didn't have the last month's rent," David remembers. "And they paid in cash, which is a little strange... She's a really nice lady, though, I'll say that for her."

So the Stones had Brenda sign an agreement stating that she would pay $3,000 on December 1 to cover the last month's rent plus December's. On December 3, the money finally arrived, but for only half the agreed-upon total. And instead of mailing a check, the Manchegos waited in their car while their youngest son rang the doorbell of the Stones' home in Washington Park and hand-delivered a money order. It was "creepy," David says.

The Stones repeatedly called the Manchegos to let them know they still owed $1,500 and finally resorted to a letter delivered to the rental home on December 5. "It is not our intent to resort to legal matters in this affair," the letter stated. "However, if the matter is not resolved by Dec. 10, 2001, we will begin legal proceedings to repossess our property and pursue an eviction.... We would also like to further reiterate that, as stated in the lease, rent is to be paid at [the Stones' P.O. box]. It does not follow the terms of the Lease that rent be hand delivered to our residence, and is a violation of our privacy."

When no money arrived at either location, David offered to let the Manchegos pay the remaining balance in installments. But the Manchegos declined, telling him they would just move out by the end of December. "That's how they bought two extra weeks," he says, because as January approached, the Manchegos decided they wanted to go to court instead.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes