Attorney: Bank owns Steamboat duplexes
Mark Fischer: Former owners have no stake in buildings
August 23, 2010
How to help
Sarah Cherry, a local volunteer for the American Red Cross, said the best way to help the 18 people affected by the fire is through LIFT-UP of Routt County, 2125 Curve Court on Steamboat’s west side. Call LIFT-UP’s donation center at 970-879-3374 or LIFT-UP administration at 970-870-0727. The donation center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.
Cherry has said cash donations are best because of the flexibility. Tatiana Achcar, executive director of Integrated Community, said those who want to donate specific items can call her at 970-871-4599 or programs coordinator Sheila Henderson at 970-620-1513 to learn what is needed.
Steamboat Springs — An attorney representing the former owners of two downtown duplexes say the buildings are owned by Bank of America and have been since the foreclosure that preceded an Aug. 14 fire that gutted one of the buildings and displaced 18 tenants.
Mark Fischer, of the Law Office of Ralph A. Cantafio, is representing Evan and Lisa Hough and Denver developer John Buchanan. The three are former owners of the two stucco duplexes at Fourth and Oak streets in downtown Steamboat Springs. Fischer said the Houghs have been living in Australia for months.
"Because of the downturn in the economy, in the United States, Evan got employment in Australia," Fischer said last week. He did not know the date of their departure.
Buchanan and Lisa Hough, Fischer said, were the owners primarily involved with an entity called Steamboat Green Community Development. Through that entity, Buchanan earned Steamboat Springs City Council approval in October 2008 for the Inspiritu Verde project, which sought to replace the duplex and its matching neighbor with two new, environmentally designed buildings.
As the recession caused delays with that project, Fischer said, Lisa Hough and Buchanan tried to sustain their ownership of the duplexes through rentals.
"They were trying to keep people in there and trying to keep the project moving forward," Fischer said.
Foreclosure on the two buildings occurred Aug. 11.
Realtor Justin Morales, of Keller Williams Realty in Fort Collins, said last week that the foreclosure was followed by an eight-day rescission period, during which no party had finalized its ownership of the buildings. That period created uncertainty about the buildings' ownership following the Aug. 14 fire.
Fischer said Bank of America's ownership clearly is spelled out in the certificate of purchase, dated Aug. 11. He said he's been trying — unsuccessfully — to contact the bank to settle issues related to the foreclosure.
"The only thing we're trying to do now is coordinate transfer of utilities to the new owners, so that people who are living there (in the future) don't suffer the consequences of this foreclosure," Fischer said. "These former owners have no right, title or interest, to my knowledge, from the date of sale."
A total of about 25 tenants in the two buildings received eviction notices Aug. 13. The fire occurred the next day, in the building closer to Oak Street. About 18 people lived in three units in that building. As many as 10 unrelated adults lived in two of those units — five people in each — and a family with several children lived in the third. The tenants came from locations including El Salvador, Peru and Honduras. Some have lived in Steamboat for several years, others less. Some are documented immigrants, others are not. Details remain unclear. The number of people living in at least some of the units was fluid.
City codes allow as many as five unrelated adults to live in a duplex unit.
"It's my understanding that everything there was completely and totally legal, or (if not) it was being done contrary to the written lease agreement," Fischer said.
A copy of that lease agreement was not available late last week.
Tatiana Achcar, executive director of Integrated Community, has been working to provide basic services and needs for the displaced tenants, who have received temporary housing in The Ponds at Steamboat through a contribution from Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.
Achcar said last week that the tenants have told her about poor living conditions in the units, including problems with the boiler and heat, stripped electrical wiring and a basement unit floored with carpet over mud. The buildings date to 1949.
Fischer said with the Houghs in Australia, Buchanan was "kind of an acting manager" for the buildings while living in Denver.
"As far as maintenance, he would be the person who kind of accepted that responsibility," Fischer said.
Fischer said Buchanan never mentioned repair requests from the former tenants and called the issue "too speculative" for further comment.
Achcar said Bank of America is offering the tenants a relocation assistance agreement, in which they would revoke their lease and waive their rights as tenants in exchange for money. She said the tenants told her they paid Buchanan $4,150 on Aug. 5 for rent in the total of five units across the two duplexes.
Fischer said he had no information about whether rent payments were made to Buchanan.
Fischer noted that the former owners lost "hundreds of thousands of dollars they put in trying to redevelop the property." But he said the greatest tragedy surrounds the people who lost everything in the Aug. 14 fire.
"We really feel sorry for the tenants — they're the ones that are the big losers here," Fischer said.
He called the situation a "microcosm of the entire bank failure" that has plagued the nation since spurring the economy's collapse in fall 2008.
"It ends up being the little guy who is most affected," he said.