SUPERIOR, Colo. (KDVR) — A victim of the Marshall Fire said that while her home is still standing, she is now without a place to live after her lease was terminated just days before she expected to move back in. 

Trish Zornio’s townhome, which she has been renting since 2017, survived the Marshall Fire but was contaminated with smoke and ash because of its close proximity to the fire line. 

“It was such a heavy burn smell,” Zornio said. “And then I started looking around and everything was coated in a fine layer of soot and ash.”

She said that after initial cleaning, soot and ash were still present in the home and she asked the owners to do a deeper clean of the residence.

HOA cleanup process takes months

Association & Community Management, a homeowners association that is part of Lakewood Realty, owns the townhome Zornio rents.

“Unlike many of the homes in Superior that suffered physical damage, Ms. Zornio’s unit had no visual display of soot or odor, which presented difficulties for the initial insurance claim,” ACM Community Manager Tifanee Padilla said in a statement. 

The statement goes on to explain that the HOA board hired an environmental testing firm to test for “invisible soot infiltration.”

“The firm’s report recommended a deeper level of cleaning, and we used that document to refile with our insurance company,” Padilla said in the statement. 

“At first I thought, well, they’ll clean it in a week or two, which is terribly naive. And two weeks and you’re like, nothing’s really happening. And then you’re like maybe a month. Nothing’s happening. You’re like maybe two months? Three months,” Zornio said. 

Zornio said she was unable to live in the townhome because of the fire damage but continued to pay rent and utilities for the months of February, March, April and May. However, her renter’s insurance did reimburse her for portions of those amounts, she said.

‘It feels like retaliation,’ renter says

In April, Zornio sent ACM a letter stating she believed them to be in violation of the law for taking so long to clean the unit. She asked for cleaning to be done and for a refund for the rent and utilities she paid while the unit was uninhabitable. 

According to both Zornio and ACM, the proper cleaning was finished in May. Zornio said she had planned to move back in on May 24. 

“On May 12th, they say, OK, we’re going to approve it but contingent on a number of things, and by the way, your lease is terminated,” she said. 

The lease was signed in July 2017 for a one-year term followed by a month-to-month agreement after that. It says “either party may terminate the month-to-month lease by giving the other party 30 days written notice.”

A reason for termination is not required. 

“It feels like retaliation,” Zornio said. “We’re in a situation where this is very much a decision and it’s being made because I’m holding them accountable for the law.”

“The decision not to continue her month-to-month tenancy was made based on the inability to satisfy her environmental concerns, and in difficulties our management company experienced trying to address them,” ACM said in a statement. “We fought on Ms. Zornio’s behalf, however, our efforts weren’t meeting her expectations and therefore felt it in the best interest of our collective ownership to end the lease.”