Tenants optimistic, worried about rent hikes after sale of Colorado Springs apartments

Tenants of Colorado Springs’ most notorious "slumlord," who sold his apartment complexes this week, greeted the development with cautious optimism tinged with skepticism.

Their logic was simple.

"I feel anybody could do a better job than what they did," James Rosa, who’s lived at Pine Creek Village for nine months, said Friday. "I could do a better job."

The departure of Terry Ragan through the sale of his seven apartment complexes to a Denver-area buyer, Slipstream Properties, this week gave hope that it would bring an end to some of the worst living conditions in the city.

For years, the apartments have been a reluctant go-to home for low-income residents, undocumented immigrants and people with evictions and criminal convictions on their records. Among the cheapest in the city, the apartments have a reputation for being crime-ridden, bug-infested dwellings. Ragan has been issued more code violations than any other property owner in the city.

Ragan’s complexes accounted for more than half of all city code enforcement housing cases and about 80 percent of all housing code violations, according to a Gazette analysis last fall. Ragan couldn’t be reached this week, and his son, Todd, declined to comment.

But, even as those renters hailed Ragan’s departure, many expressed fear that their apartments’ sale would lead to unaffordable rents and even homelessness.

Implicit in the $102 million deal, they say, comes an uncomfortable reality: The very people pining for a more responsive landlord may not be able to afford to remain there if improvements are made.

Tenants complain about having to live with cockroaches, leaky pipes, bedbugs, mold, a lack of heat, shootings, assaults and bogus charges.

"Can’t get no worse, I guess," said James, 66, an El Vecino Apartments tenant who declined to give his last name for fear of retribution.

Work orders routinely went unanswered, he said. His front door frame is cracked, and his dishwasher doesn’t drain, leaving a stew of brown water.

Like more than a dozen other renters contacted by The Gazette on Friday at several of Ragan’s now former apartment complexes, he said cockroaches are a daily companion.

Fixing all of this won’t be cheap, he acknowledged. He feared the roughly $700-a-month he now pays in rent would be increased.

Andrew, 22, who also preferred not to give his last name, agreed.

"If they do it, a lot of people won’t be able to afford it," Andrew said.

Down the hallway, Angela, 42, shares a two-bedroom apartment with five others.

It’s not that the new owner shouldn’t invest in the property, she said; people living there can’t pay any more for a place to live.

"I’m worried we’re going to end up homeless," Angela said.

Most of Ragan’s units were in the city’s southeast, where average rents are $115 to $285 a month less than other areas of the city, according to the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado. And often Ragan’s units undercut even the southeast’s market by hundreds of dollars a month.

"It’ll be a hard undertaking for them (Slipstream)," Angela said. "They may just slowly improve it, and that’ll be fine with us."

"We’ll just take it as we take it," Angela added. "Just, God, take care of us."

Slipstream Properties hasn’t announced any specific plans for the complexes, beyond that upgrades are likely. The company didn’t return a call Thursday from The Gazette.

A call to the properties’ new manager, Colorado Springs Apartment Management, also wasn’t returned Friday.

Letters posted on tenants’ doors – in English and Spanish – said the company had assumed the leases and security deposits and that "all rules and conditions for the existing lease will remain in effect."

The properties need work, and the expense "has to be covered somehow," said Laura Nelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado.

Still, she said, the sale holds the promise of improving conditions at Ragan’s former properties.

"They’ve only got the one property here, but it’s a well-run property," Nelson said of a Colorado Springs apartment complex that Slipstream bought in 2017. "They seem to be a really reputable group. So I think you’re going to see a vast improvement in those properties with them taking over."

"They’re going to have their work cut out for them, and it’s not going to be an easy task," Nelson added. "I think this is going to be a huge positive for our city."

She urged patience, and leniency from city code enforcement officers as the new owner begins managing the properties.

For years, Ragan has been regularly denounced as a slumlord by a state lawmaker, Mike Merrifield, and community leaders for the neverending code violations and criminal activity at his complexes. An investigation by The Gazette in November showed conditions had worsened during the last 15 years, prompting City Council to pass an ordinance raising fees for repeat code offenses.

The apartment association supported that ordinance, despite concerns that it didn’t protect landlords if the code violations were caused by tenants.

"This new owner coming in should not pay for the sins of the previous owner," Nelson said. "But there’s nothing in the ordinance that prevents that."

She acknowledged that some people may be forced to leave the properties, once their leases end.

Ragan had a reputation for renting to people who might have been turned down by other landlords because of evictions or criminal records, Nelson said. It’s typical, when a new landlord comes in, for them to review leases, only renewing those for tenants that meet their standards. Some tenants, particularly those with violent felonies on their records, may not be given the choice of renewing their lease.

"I think that’s what the city and residents of that area have been asking for – they’ve been concerned about crime and about issues on the property," Nelson said. "And there’s no way to fix that until you change your criteria."

When Joshua Webb, 33, saw the notice that he had a new landlord, his first thought was, "Good riddance."

He moved into the Cedar Creek Club apartments nearly a year ago. Although he said he could have afforded higher rent, he found the competition for available apartments in the city was stiff.

He said he’d heard about Terry Ragan and claimed he specifically asked the apartment managers if Ragan owned the complex. They lied and said he didn’t, Webb said.

Within two weeks of moving in last summer, water seeped up through the floor of his basement unit during a rainstorm and he demanded to be moved to a different unit.

He was moved – to a top floor apartment – but several appliances didn’t work.

Webb said he like to remain where he is, but wants the new landlord to evict criminals and problem tenants, and doesn’t care if they do it by raising rents.

He acknowledged that the prospect of gentrification – improving the properties so they attract more affluent tenants who can pay higher rents – is making some of his neighbors anxious.

"As bad as it is here sometimes, that might be a blessing in disguise," Webb said.

Some people aren’t waiting around to see what will happen now that Ragan is gone.

Rosa, the Pine Creek resident, moved out Friday. His air conditioner stopped working during his first week there, and then came the cockroaches.

Pine Creek residents Marshall Statler and his friend Daniel, who declined to give his last name, also plan to leave the complex next month.

Shortly after they moved in last October, Statler and his wife, Monica, learned from their daughter that their apartment roof leaked.

"Mommy," their daughter said during a storm, "it’s raining in the room."

Statler’s friend Daniel also had a leaky roof three years ago during his first week at Pine Creek. Eventually, water-soaked drywall from his ceiling fell onto his TV, knocked it to the ground and broke it. He said he went eight months with a large hole in his ceiling, where mold also grew. At one point, when he complained to Todd Ragan, Terry’s son, Daniel said Todd told him, "I’m not the drywall guy."

Statler said he didn’t have heat over the winter. Daniel said other problems included water main breaks, a lack of hallway light fixtures and crime.

Statler said it "breaks his heart" to believe Ragan could operate the way he did.

"It’s supposed to be beautiful Colorado, not terrible Colorado. It’s meant to be a place for humble people to get their lives together," he said. "You’re not supposed to come here and just do this to people."

Another Pine Creek renter, Rene, who declined to give his last name, said he’s hopeful conditions will improve, but he’s also a realist.

"It’s been my experience that optimism doesn’t get you very far," Rene said. "The proof is in the pudding."

Source Article