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CU students forced out of apartments deemed uninhabitable

BOULDER, Colo. -- Move-in day at CU Boulder turned into move-out day for hundreds of students Thursday.

Late Wednesday, the city declared a privately owned, off-campus apartment complex as uninhabitable.

That declaration now has students who signed leases at Sterling University Peaks Apartments scrambling for answers as to where they’ll live this school year.

Students love that it’s so close to campus--just a couple of blocks away.

But they frown upon how the owner went about turning two-bedroom apartments into four-bedrooms.

“I’m beyond furious. I’m so beyond furious,” said Yvette Flores, visiting from Texas to get her daughter settled into CU.

It should be one of the most exciting times of their lives: a new chapter.

“We drove all the way over here, 18 hours so we could get my daughter moved in because she starts Boulder on Monday,” Flores said.

But instead of soaking in the college experience, students who moved into Sterling University Peaks feel the tarnish of uncertainty.

“This has left me scrambling. School starts on Monday,” said first-year law student Josh Holsten.

He moved in Wednesday, only to be told hours later, to get out--his newly-remodeled apartment is uninhabitable.

“I guess that’s what they tried to sneak by the city, was to classify a 2-bedroom as a 4-bedroom,” he says.

He and other students show how the owner turned a two-bedroom unit into four-bedrooms.

“They put these (two) bookshelves on hinges (one on each opposing wall) and secured them with a shower rod right here.”

The bookshelves can then swing open and closed for privacy. But when they’re closed, the rooms shrink significantly to about 10-by-10 feet, and without the required entrances and exits.

“Of 96 units, all were supposed to be 2-bedroom units. Ninety-two were made into 4-bedrooms without the city-permitting process approval,” says City of Boulder Spokesperson Sarah Huntley.

And as a result, she says, it violates several city codes.

“The reason we have these codes in place is for life, safety and health reasons. It’s not because we are trying to be strict on landlords and tenants. We want to make sure every tenant is safe, especially in the event of a fire, or they have to evacuate quickly,” said Huntley.

She also said the owner has to reconvert the rooms back to two-bedrooms--each of which can hold two people.

The fix is as easy as nailing one of the bookshelves to the wall, so it cannot be closed, and provides access in and out of the room.

“So we now have to live with two people in one room which is not what I signed up for,” said one student.

“I’m trying to break the lease now. Fact is, I don’t want my daughter sharing a room with another person when I signed a lease for a private room,” said Flores.

“This is not something I want to worry about right now. I want to focus on my first-week assignments, preparing for class,” Holsten said.

The issue remains for people who signed a lease for a private bedroom.

Huntley said the room does not fit the legal definition of two private bedrooms.

It is simply one large bedroom separated by a bookcase.

The leasing office wouldn’t speak to us.

They wouldn’t name the owner of Sterling University Peaks.

But we contacted a man that public records show is the owner.

He did not return our phone call for comment as to why he changed 92 rooms without city approval.

A statement was emailed to Channel 2 News late Thursday night from Sterling University Peaks Apartments:

"Sterling University Peaks Apartments was notified by the city of Boulder building department Wednesday afternoon that the newly renovated building was uninhabitable because of a bookcase provided  to the residents.  That evening city officials helped escort over three hundred students out of the building.  Simple city-approved modifications quickly brought the units into compliance by permanently affixing the bookcase to a wall, a process that took approximately ten minutes per unit.  The city inspected the building the next morning and declared the building habitable for all residents except for two units for which management did not have access.  Attempts to contact those residents are ongoing to get those units to compliance. Transportation to hotels and hotel expenses will be reimbursed to the residents along with two days rent to help compensate for their inconvenience.  Also, each resident will be offered a $500 cash payment for this unexpected modification."