Lakewood residents claim landlord tried to break lease, raise rent

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LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- Dan Raney is 63, unemployed and has spent the past five years battling cancer. Now he’s also fighting to keep his apartment.

“This is a difficult market right now for renters,” Raney said.

Raney recently received a letter from the West Ridge Condominiums property manager saying that because of rising “rental rates” in the metro area, the rent was going to be increased $100 a month on 16 units, including Raney’s.

The letter added the tenants had to sign new rental agreements before the increase took effect Aug. 1 despite the fact Raney’s current lease is good until December.

“They think they have the right to just tear up the contract and have me sign a new one, which I don’t want to do,” Raney said.

Raney contacted the FOX 31 Problem Solvers because he thought his rights were being violated and he feared what would happen if he refused to sign a new lease.

“They might find other reasons to evict me,” he said.

So we reached out to attorney April Jones with Colorado Affordable Legal Services and she said a lease is a binding legal contract that the tenant and the landlord have to abide by.

“Even though the market is hot, if you sign an agreement for a certain amount of money for a certain term, that’s what you are held to,” Jones said.

Raney said he confronted the property manager, Ernest Martinez, who he claims confirmed the lease was being “terminated.”

Raney followed up with a letter refusing to pay the additional rent or sign a new lease.

HEIDI HEMMATBut Raney said he got no response from Martinez until investigative reporter Heidi Hemmat started asking questions and showed up at the leasing office.

Martinez took Hemmat on a tour of a vacant unit before claiming the letter sent to Raney two months earlier was a “mistake.”

Hemmat then asked Martinez, “So you are not going to break Dan’s lease?”

Martinez replied, "No.”

Martinez went on to say Raney and any other tenant with a current lease are welcome to stay until their rental agreements expire.

That’s a relief for Raney, who said the apartment manager changed his tune after FOX 31 got involved. Regardless, he’s grateful his problem is solved.

“The extra $100 a month is the difference between rent and food on the table," he said.

If you feel your renter’s rights are being violated, there is low cost or even free legal help available through the Colorado Affordable Legal Services hotline at 303-996-0010.

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