While Mint Urban Infinity bills the complex as “current, hip, sophistication” on its website, it’s actually “best characterized as a slum,” according to an announcement of the September 30 filing. During one of the state’s hottest summers on record, the air-conditioning was broken in many units, others were infested with cockroaches, and between July 6 and July 15, one building had no hot water.
Tenants are also concerned about security and safety. Since 2018, the Denver Fire Department has reported more than 64 elevator-related incidents at the complex.
“The landlord hasn’t kept their part of the bargain — it’s as simple as that. These tenants have paid their rent, but Cardinal Group Management has not provided them with a safe, healthy place to live, as required by their lease contract and the law,” said Jason Legg, the plaintiffs’ attorney, in announcing the suit. “We’re asking the court to make it clear that tenants can break their leases penalty-free and to find that Cardinal Group Management isn’t entitled to keep and collect rent from these tenants when it’s not holding up its end of the contract.”
Brandon Smith, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, spent months organizing a campaign and collecting evidence from tenants; legal representation became a last resort after they’d tried every avenue to remedy the situation, he explains. “They’re not going to be capable of fixing these issues because they’ve been so grossly negligent so far,” he says. “I want people to be able to move out, and I want the state law to change. Hopefully, this will show the flaws and the loopholes that allow property managers to get away with these things.”
Denver renters have limited options for dealing with negligent landlords. Tenants can reach out to the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment and request an investigation, and a few nonprofits offer financial and legal resources. But direct legal action is often the only way to hold landlords accountable, advocates say.
When Mint Urban Infinity tenants try to break their leases because of poor conditions, they’re often asked to pay extra rent and sign a non-disclosure agreement. “They have broken our leasing agreement, and they want us to pay to move out and they want us to pay to leave, just so they can make extra money,” says Smith. “This is unbridled capitalism. Lots of landlords are doing this because they can get away with it. No one is checking them or auditing them, nobody is looking into this stuff. Everybody living here is under a constant state of fear.”
Cardinal Group Management manages 20,000 units in the state and thousands more across the country. Its properties consist largely of lower-income, student and multi-level family housing.
9to5 Colorado is working with the tenants to support the lawsuit.
“The last three years, there have been significant changes to tenant habitability law. We have more protections, it’s a bit more balanced, but still not balanced enough, and we need to focus on implementation,” says Andrea Chiraboga-Flor, executive director of 9to5 Colorado. “For so long, this has been the culture and atmosphere of ‘landlords can get away with whatever,’ because there’s not a lot that tenants could do or resources they could turn to.”
While tenant rights haven’t been a priority for elected officials, Chiraboga-Flor hopes that cases like this one will bring more attention to the lack of landlord accountability.
Thirty tenants have signed affidavits regarding alleged violations of the Warranty of Habitability law at Mint Urban Infinity, whose management has not responded to requests for comment.