An immigrant says a sewer smell inside his new restaurant forced him to abandon the American dream and pursue one of his adopted country’s other pastimes – suing his landlord for not disclosing the odor problem or permanently fixing it, according to court documents obtained by 9Wants to Know.
“That was all my life investment,” said Roman Tsyporyn, the former restaurant owner. “Everything I make, I try to open a good business, be preferable to me and my whole family.”
Tsyporyn moved to the U.S. 13 years ago from Belarus, one of the Republics of the former Soviet Union.
“For better life, like everybody,” he said.
For years he and his wife worked without weekends off or vacations so they could save enough money to open their own business, Tsyporyn told 9NEWS.
“I was always thinking to open something to work for myself,” Tsyporyn said. “To stop working for somebody else. You build your own business, that was my goal.”
In December 2014, Tsyporyn opened RT Café, a Russian cuisine restaurant at 988 Lincoln St. in Denver.
“Everybody was happy with our food -- it was really good food,” he said. “It was like beef stroganoff, plov, borsht, solanka, goulash, shish kabob. It felt great, I mean, open your own business and get the customer in, get happy. It was great. I was happy.”
But he says the smell of good food was overpowered by the smell of the sewer.
“Like a restroom, like a public restroom,” Tsyporyn described it. “Like poop, like bad egg smell, it was really, really bad smell.”
Tsyporyn has filed a lawsuit that alleges the building management and landlord knew about the sewer smell when they rented him the space, but didn’t disclose it. Tsyporyn’s attorney Ian Hicks provided 9Wants to Know a copy of the lawsuit. It alleges the previous tenant at 988 Lincoln St. “repeatedly complained” to the property management company about the sewage smell.
9Wants to Know left messages with one previous renter to confirm that, but he didn’t return calls.
Tsyporyn’s suit says when he rented the space, the property management company, BRC Real Estate Corporation, its representatives Vicki Peppers and Michael Bright, failed to disclose this information, which doomed his food business from the start.
Peppers responded to a 9Wants to Know email, declining to comment because of pending litigation. Bright did not respond to a message left on his cell phone.
Tsyporyn provided 9Wants to Know emails between him and the property management company. In them, the management company said the landlord had spent “a considerable amount of money to investigate the sewer smell at the property.” The emails mention a number of things were done to try to fix the problem, including replacement of parts in possible leak areas, camera inspection of the sewer to determine any blockage and testing in all units to determine the cause of the smell.
In at least one email and in the letter from the landlord’s attorney addressed to Tsyporyn, the property management company and the landlord blamed him for the sewage smell, saying construction Tsyporyn performed in the restaurant contributed to its cause.
According to Tsyporyn’s lawsuit, an inspector from the Denver Fire Department ordered Tsyporyn to make various improvements. The lawsuit said all of them were inspected and permitted by the City of Denver.
The emails from Tsyporyn to the landlord also show Tsyporyn believed that no matter what was done, the sewer smell still lingered.
“It’s really bad,” Tsyporyn said. “It’s sewer gas, if you smell it the whole time, you got nausea, you got headache.”
Tsyporyn called the Denver Department of Environmental Health to complain.
According to documents obtained by 9Wants to Know, an inspector from that department came out in September 2016. In his report, the inspector noticed the smell and said the ventilation was inadequate in Tsyporyn’s restaurant.
An inspector for Denver Environmental Health documented “strong obnoxious odor after running water in the neighboring facility (Pizza N Grill) three compartment sink for 5 minutes.”
“All rooms shall have sufficient ventilation to keep them free of excessive vapors and obnoxious odors,” he wrote in his report.
When Tsyporyn called the city, he said he was hoping it could compel the property owner to fix the problem.
But the Denver Department of Environmental Health told 9Wants to Know that based on current ordinances, it didn’t have the power to do that.
“In the 30 years that I’ve done this, it’s very rare that I’ve been called into investigate a complaint of this nature,” said Ben Siller, environmental protection investigator for the department. “We have a standard for outdoor odor when we measure the intensity of the odor. If it surpasses that threshold, then we can ask the sources of the odor to do something to mitigate. We don’t have a regulation that’s specific to inside.”
Tsyporyn also contacted Denver Waste Water.
The documents provided by Denver Waste Water to 9Wants to Know show the department gave Pizza N Grill a written warning for “failure to maintain sewer and fittings.” It required the restaurant bring the plumbing up to code.
It did, but that didn’t help with the smell at RT Café, according to Tysporyn.
Tsyporyn’s lawsuit names Toba Enterprises Inc., the operator of Pizza N Grill. In it, Tsyporyn says that he noticed the sewer smell was more intense when the pizza place next door was open.
“We don’t have any stink issue and we are code compliant with the city,” said Tahseen Abrahim, who identified himself to 9Wants to Know on the phone as one of the four owners of Pizza N Grill.
According to the Colorado Secretary of State database, Abrahim is the registered agent for Toba Enterprises Inc..
He said he didn’t think his restaurant was the source of the sewer smell and didn’t know what was causing the smell next door.
Abrahim told 9Wants to Know he didn’t know about the lawsuit filed against his company.
“We don’t have it, we didn’t have it, haven’t had this problem,” Abrahim said when asked about the sewer smell on the premises.
The lawsuit also says the property management company hired a master plumber to check out the issue. In fact, Choice Mechanical Company made several trips to the property and “…their master plumber actually vomited because the sewage odors were so strong,” the lawsuit states.
“When you go to restaurant, you want to relax, eat some food, and when you sit and feel some poop smell, you don’t want to eat the food,” Tsyporyn said.
Still, he continued to fight for his business, hiring David Olson from PCD Engineering Services. Olson does consulting in mechanical and electrical engineering. His job is to find issues with buildings, identify them and then express his opinion as to what is causing the issues.
“It was clear from the moment I walked into this restaurant that there was a problem with the sewer line,” Olson said.
Olson said to figure out if the sewer system was working properly, he performed a peppermint test, which involves pouring pure peppermint into the vents to see if or where the smell escaped.
“You could smell the peppermint like it was Christmas Day (inside Tsyporyn’s restaurant) and everyone was eating candy canes and peppermint candies,” Olson said. “It was very strong within the space. A properly functioning sewer system does not allow leakage of any kind into the building.”
Olson wrote a report based on his findings (read the entire report here) where he said in part, “…the under-slab sewer line is deteriorated and is no longer functioning properly without allowing the escape of unwanted sewer gas into your restaurant.”
The only way to fix it, he said, was the only thing that hadn’t been done already - dig the whole thing up.
“Normally in my experience that would be the building owner’s responsibility,” Olson said. “In an occupied building like this, it’s going to be quite expensive.”
“They never fix it,” Tsyporyn said. “They said everything been fixed, we spent so much money, either you stay or you leave. There is nothing else we can do.”
Tsyporyn stopped paying rent and left, closing RT Café.
“I lost everything,” he said, “I lose my job, my wife lost her job. I lose my money. They have to finally fix this building.”
As of Monday May 15, the lawsuit has been filed and served to most of the businesses named in the suit.
Tsyporyn said he was forced to close RT Café in the fall of 2016. He’s currently in the process of opening another business with his mother and wife. It will be a medical supply store.