Joe Gutierrez was watching television in her Montrose apartment when a man she didn't recognize started barricading her front door.
At first Gutierrez thought she heard construction, but when she peeked outside her window, she saw the maintenance man nailing boards across her front door, blocking the entranceway. Gutierrez panicked and called the police, who ultimately tore down the plywood.
“I didn't know the law system too hard, so I didn't know if it was illegal for him to do things like that, and I didn't understand it," Gutierrez said." I was just closed up. I was thinking, 'I just can't believe this. I just can't believe it.'"
An officer had just been to Gutierrez's Colquitt Street home the day before, to tell her she needed to leave. Gutierrez had lost an eviction court battle three days earlier against her landlord, Brett Stettner. Stettner evicted her for unpaid rent, loud music and having a roommate who wasn't on the lease, according his former attorney, Jerry Schutza. But Gutierrez's attorney, U.A. Lewis, contends Stettner simply would not come by to collect Gutierrez's payments, wanting her gone.
The law allows tenants up to five days to appeal an eviction judgment and to stay in their home if they pay one month's rent into the court registry, Lewis said. Despite the fact that Gutierrez was still within this five-day window and was appealing the ruling, a police officer showed up at her door to tell her to pack up. Gutierrez phoned Lewis right away, and the attorney said she explained to the officer that Gutierrez was appealing. So the officer left, Lewis said.
Yet the following day, Gutierrez said the maintenance man showed up and started hammering plywood onto her door. He built a three-sided enclosure over the door.
Gutierrez said she recalls the maintenance man telling police he intended to leave a “small opening so she could get out,” apparently as ordered by the landlord.
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Now, Gutierrez is suing Stettner for false imprisonment, wrongful eviction—since she claims Stettner wouldn't take her money—and retaliation. Stettner ultimately dropped the original eviction case against Gutierrez since she moved out, shortly after almost getting barricaded inside, which made the case moot. She's seeking more than $75,000 in damages in the new case.
Lewis told us that she could think of no other reason as to why Stettner would send a maintenance man to nail Gutierrez inside her home other than because he was angry that she was continuing to fight him about the eviction.
“People call up my office with these stories, and you think maybe the tenant is delusional and making it up—or that the landlord has lost their mind,” Lewis said. “And strangely enough, you find out that these are actually things that are happening. In this case, at first I was thinking, 'Well maybe he didn't know that she was in there.' But no, she let him know—they had had that issue the day before when he tried to call the police on her.”
We tried to reach Stettner to find out why the maintenance man arrived at Gutierrez' apartment that day. He failed to return multiple phone calls seeking comment.