Evicted for Easter bunnies? Boulder County woman asks jury to decide
Attorney says decorations protected as religious expression
By Heath Urie
Saturday, June 20, 2009
BOULDER, Colo. -- A jury will be asked to decide this week whether a Gunbarrel woman's pyramid of Peeps and other Easter decor on her apartment door became stale enough to warrant her eviction.
Carol Burdick, 59, will appear in Boulder County Court on Wednesday to argue that she was wrongfully forced from her home for leaving Easter decorations on her door 17 days past the holiday.
"You can't evict somebody for Easter bunny decorations," said Boulder attorney John Pineau, who has taken on Burdick's unusual case. "An Easter decoration is a religious statement and should be protected -- even if it is just bunnies."
Pineau said his client kept a modest display on the door of her apartment, at 5105 Williams Fork Trail, including small Easter-theme stickers, plastic grass, Peeps marshmallow candies and a cardboard cutout of a chicken in a colorful egg.
The trial will center on whether Burdick's festive display violated conditions of her lease with the AIMCO corporation and Meadow Creek Apartments.
The Meadow Creek landlord called Burdick a few days after the April 12 holiday and told her that the decorations needed to come down, Pineau said. The woman refused, leading apartment managers to post a notice that she was violating a provision of her lease requiring residents to "keep the apartment home, including all balconies, patios and other areas ... in a clean and sanitary condition."
"They're calling her decorations garbage," Pineau said.
According to the company's Web site, AIMCO is a Denver-based company and one of the nation's largest holders of apartment properties. Cindy Duffy, a corporate spokeswoman for AIMCO, said Saturday she wanted to research the matter before commenting.
To see if her neighbors thought the chick in a purple and blue eggshell was somehow offensive, Burdick drafted an "Easter bunny survey" and had other tenants fill out anonymous comment cards in late April. Copies of the responses provided to the Camera by her attorney show overwhelming support for the decorations, with comments such as: "Do not stop."
With the support of her neighbors, Burdick refused to remove the decor. That's when apartment managers tore down the display, her attorney said. In response, he said, Burdick withheld her May rent payment and received another notice May 6 telling her she would be evicted from the building if she didn't pay within three days.
Pineau said the payment wasn't made because the apartment effectively began the legal eviction process with the first notice and breached the contract.
Burdick, who suffers from lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease, and lives mostly on Social Security disability benefits, moved out as demanded in May and has been staying with friends.
She has been granted a request for a jury trial on the matter, which Pineau said is rare in eviction cases. Boulder County Court Judge John F. Stavely will begin the jury selection process Wednesday morning.
Burdick -- who in 2007 was forced to sell the home she designed and lived in for 22 years to settle her mother's estate before moving to the Meadow Creek Apartments -- will ask the jury to find her not liable for more than $2,000 in rent and late fees. She is not seeking monetary damages.
Her attorney said he already has "exhibit one" prepared -- a bag full of Peeps.
© 2009 The E.W. Scripps Co.