For nearly two weeks, residents of a Littleton apartment building for seniors awaited word of when they could permanently return home after a fire forced their evacuation.
On April 19, they found out they won't.
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Those displaced by the apartment fire will face a Denver-area rental market that has seen rates steadily rise over the past couple years.
While a complete overview of rental rates at Southview Place Towers was not immediately available, a listing on the website apartmentfinder.com advertised a two-bedroom, two-bath unit for $1,135 a month.
That's nearly $500 a month less than the median rate for a two-bedroom apartment in Littleton, according to apartmentlist.com, which surveys rents across the country and issues a monthly report.
According to the website, here are the median rental rates for a two-bedroom apartment as of March for some area cities:
• Denver: $1,750
• Highlands Ranch: $1,640
• Centennnial: $1,610
• Littleton: $1,600
• Englewood: $1,550
• Lakewood: $1,450
Residents of the Southview Place Towers building at 5820 S. Windermere St. were informed the damage from the April 6 fire was extensive enough to make the building uninhabitable for at least six months. As a result, the leases of all 132 residents were terminated. Beginning Thursday and for the next 10 days, residents are to move their belongings out of their units, in accordance with a schedule.
"The building is safe to enter to regain possessions but not safe to live in for a minimum of six months," said Andy Boian, CEO of Dovetail Solutions, a public-relations and crisis-management firm based in Denver hired by the building's owner.
Some of the seniors gathered at Littleton United Methodist Church for an informational meeting reacted with tears.
Rose Sullivan met the news with frustration.
"I'm 94 years old," she said. "Where do I go?"
At least temporarily, Sullivan is living with her daughter. But she is accustomed to being independent.
"I'm so used to living by myself. I write my own checks. I pay my own rent."
Building resident Ted Lemke summed up his reaction in one word: "shell-shocked."
Residents learned they would be getting a full refund of their deposits, a pro-rated refund of their rent for April and $500 from ownership to help pay for a new place to live.
Boian said the building's ownership and the Red Cross are dedicated to finding new homes for Southview residents.
"None of these people will wind up homeless - I can ensure you that," he said. "We have no intention of letting anyone suffer any more than they already have."
A letter handed out to residents April 19 explained the reason for the decision.
"While the building was in safe condition and compliant with code requirements when purchased by the current owners in February 2016, the fire damaged the mechanical elements of the building, including the fire alarm and sprinkler system, as well as the HVAC systems. Due to the extent of the damage to these systems, most of which were installed in 1972, the systems may need to be repaired and upgraded to meet today's safety standards...
"Additionally, in order to properly remediate the smoke damage behind the walls and ceilings, entire sections of the building will need to be closed off for repair. Given that portions of the building may also need to be closed down to complete systems upgrades, which would inhibit emergency egress, the repair process will not permit resident access for units near the work zones."
Southview Place Towers comprises two adjacent buildings that were built in the early 1970s, one on Windermere Street and one on Datura Street.
The fire, which started on the fourth floor and is still under investigation as to a cause, did not reach the Datura building.
In February, the buildings were purchased for $30.5 million by Tebo-Orvis LLC, according to Arapahoe County property records. Documents list Stephen D. Tebo as the company's manager. He is the founder and owner of Boulder-based Tebo Properties.
Boian said the owners intend to make the needed repairs and keep it as a senior-living residence.
In the wake of the fire, at least a dozen residents spent each night for more than a week at a Red Cross shelter in Littleton. On April 16, the Red Cross reported that everyone who had been staying at the shelter had been relocated to temporary apartments, care communities or hotels.
More than 100 other residents have found temporary homes with family, friends or in a hotel.
Building resident Jim Stubbert and his wife, Carolyn, have been staying with their daughter in south Jefferson County. He wasn't certain where they would go from here.
"We don't know how much longer she is going to put up with us."
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