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Judge orders Jackson woman to return security deposits

• Tramm appears in court, defending her practice of ‘master leasing.’

By Kate Ready
Jackson Hole News&Guide
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — A Jackson judge has ruled that renter Claire Tramm had no legal authority to sign subleases with two Colorado women and ordered her to return their money.

Teton County Circuit Court Judge Curt Haws found that a master lease that Tramm had with two Wilson homeowners stated that she couldn’t sublease and permitted her to have no more than five roommates.

“So this lease agreement is either null and void, or it’s fraudulent,” Haws said in court Monday in reference to the sublease.

Tramm had “zero authority” to enter into the rental agreements, Haws ruled, as he ordered her to pay $2,400 each to Maya Greenstein and Julianne Marsh.

Haws also said Tramm improperly withheld information about pending lawsuits from the women and took issue with Tramm’s efforts to move the two women into an alternate property instead.

Tramm told the judge she’s lived in Jackson part time since 2007 and moved here full time in 2020. In September 2022, Tramm signed a 19-month lease with a Wilson couple, now Virginia residents, for their five-bedroom home on 2nd Street.

She has been involved in nine lawsuits stemming from disagreements inside the residence where Tramm was subleasing rooms.

In September, she sued five of her renters, and then the owners of the home sued Tramm. Five of her former or prospective tenants filed small claims suits in November seeking security deposit funds back from her.

According to court documents, at one point Tramm, who was living in the house, was allegedly   subleasing rooms — including an attic and mudroom — to eight other people, and she intended to take in a ninth tenant.

With lawsuits pending, Tramm entered into the roommate agreement with the two Colorado women Oct. 31, 10 days before she vacated the home.

In their signed agreement, a “substitution of property” clause stated the women would be moved to a Jackson townhome in the event the Wilson home wasn’t available or habitable. That quickly became their reality.

“It’s a little bit like making an arrangement to rent a Lamborghini … and then showing up and being offered a Datsun,” Haws said. “None of the discussions related to the in-town property. So that’s troubling.”

Greenstein and Marsh, both Denver residents, paid Tramm first month’s rent for December before learning of eviction proceedings on Nov. 1, when one of the homeowners contacted Greenstein after seeing a payment she made to Tramm on Venmo. Marsh then spoke to homeowner Asheley Farland, who told her that two months prior she had begun eviction proceedings against Tramm.

The homeowners, Farland and Matthew Lee, sued Tramm on Oct. 2 after issuing two eviction notices to her in August and another in September. This was after they learned of eight, soon to be nine, people living in their home, despite their lease agreement containing a clause forbidding subleasing and allowing only six people total to live there.

Meanwhile, Tramm sued five of her tenants, who she stated failed to pay rent in September, threatened her and broke house rules. One of these cases Tramm dismissed the same month.

On Dec. 15, the court dismissed the three other pending cases Tramm filed against her renters, after finding that Tramm had missed the 90-day deadline to move the cases forward.

In the midst of the ongoing litigation, Tramm negotiated a rental agreement for the two Colorado women after seeing Greenstein post on 22 Rents, a housing-devoted Facebook page.

Both Greenstein and Marsh had just graduated from master’s programs in Colorado and, after enjoying several ski vacations years prior, decided to move to Jackson to work at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for the winter.

“I wanted to take a break for a few months and work at a ski resort before getting a real job,” Greenstein said in court.

Greenstein and Marsh traveled from Denver on Monday to testify in front of Haws for the nearly three-hour small claims hearing, asking that Tramm refund their first month’s rent, $2,400 each. Tramm, who lives in town, appeared remotely, stating she had COVID.

The women were three weeks away from moving in when they heard from Farland about the various lawsuits. Greenstein, who was wrapping up a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Colorado in Boulder at the time, stated she was about to enter a midterm when she received Farland’s Facebook message. She was extremely upset.

Tramm, represented by attorney Herb Heimerl, stated that she didn’t share the ongoing litigation with the two women because she didn’t believe that the homeowners’ eviction filings “held water.”

Her lease had mediation and arbitration clauses, Tramm stated, making the homeowners’ actions premature. Tramm felt confident she would prevail in the dispute, Heimerl said.

Haws found Tramm intentionally withheld information.

“That was an important fact that a negotiating party should have had,” the judge stated.

When Marsh called Tramm to request that their lease be canceled and their money returned in light of the legal actions, Marsh testified, Tramm attempted to move the women into an alternate property of hers. Tramm vacated the Wilson home Nov. 9.

The women learned they had undervalued a “substitution of properties” clause in their contracts that stated they would be moved into a townhome on Elk Run Lane in Jackson if the 2nd Street lease was terminated. Tramm stated in court that she lives there and that the townhome, which borders Flat Creek, is owned by her parents.

“I thought that was a worst-case scenario,” Greenstein stated, “if the house burned down or if there was a major issue with the property.”

Both women signed for Dec. 1 to April 30, 2024, according to their attorney, Austin Dunlap. Greenstein said the rent left her with only $200 for other expenses, but she justified the amount given the Wilson home’s amenities such as the proximity to the ski resort, large bedrooms and a hot tub.

Dunlap stated Tramm added this alternate property language as a result of the homeowners’ pending litigation. He analyzed past leases Tramm drafted with the other tenants already living in the home, and this substitute language wasn’t there.

Tramm’s lawyers advised her to add that, she said in court.

Dunlap also pointed out that, dissimilar to Tramm’s existing leases, the women signed “roommate” agreements; Tramm was listed as the lessor instead of her company, Western Sky Property Group.

“I was given legal advice to be more clear about the nature of it being a roommate agreement,” Tramm stated in court.

Haws later stated that chosen wording aside, if the agreement “looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

Tramm also disputed that Western Sky Property Group, the lessor listed on the lease agreements between her and seven other roommates, is a property management company.

“It’s a company that master leases, invests in buying or building reasonably priced, mostly multifamily properties,” Tramm said.

A master lease is an agreement where a tenant leases a property and then subleases it to others in order to generate income.

Tramm described herself as an entrepreneur and “natural house mom,” who fills a void in Jackon’s housing market, namely seasonal workers’ need for furnished, turnkey housing.

Heimerl stated that Tramm didn’t think it was her job to explain the “exact legal stance of the situation.” She disclosed that there were “issues” in the home, he said.

Another renter, Marshall Cherry, 26, became the fifth person to file a small claims action against Tramm. Cherry, like the two Colorado women, never took possession of the property as a renter. He’s seeking a refund of $6,000.

Cherry stated that after signing a $2,500 per month lease for the 2nd Street home spanning Sept. 30 through May 30, 2024, he instead was sent to live “temporarily” at the Elk Run townhome, due to a “domestic violence” incident Tramm told him occurred at the 2nd Street property prior to his move-in date. Cherry stated that Tramm didn’t mention the lawsuits or eviction notices.

He lived there for 16 days, from Oct. 8 through Oct. 23. He stated that he vacated after learning of Tramm’s eviction notices and ongoing legal battles surrounding the Wilson property.

In an interview, Cherry stated he witnessed Tramm short-term renting the Elk Run townhome.

“She temporarily housed four construction workers I had never met before with me in the three-bedroom house with less than 24 hours’ notice,” he said.

The group stayed for five days, he said.

When Tramm again informed him on short notice that the crew would be returning for another week, he began searching for other rental options, citing the “instability” of the housing arrangement.

In total, he stated that he paid Tramm $7,500 but is requesting $6,000 back, the maximum allowed for small claims actions. Per Wyoming statute, tenants are entitled to receive the full amount back if deposits are not returned within 30 days and itemized.

In settlement discussions spanning Oct. 25 to Nov. 7, Cherry stated Tramm attempted to “bully” him with possible claims of breach of contract, damages and extortion. He stated he was asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement and non-disparagement agreement as part of the settlement but signed neither.

Cherry has a hearing scheduled Jan. 22, the same date two other renters, Anjani Ladhar and Andrew McCrea, also are scheduled to appear in small claims court.

In issuing his decision Monday, Haws acknowledged that the contract the women signed explicitly stated no refunds. However, information about the pending litigation should have been provided to them.

“She knew or should have known [that information] would have been material to the negotiations here,” Haws stated.

Tramm has 30 days to appeal Haws’ decision. In an emailed statement, Tramm wrote that there are two sides to every story.

“After committing to a multi-year lease with the owners, we had an agreement that suddenly turned into a series of subsequent misunderstandings that have really made this a rather confusing and stressful time. Having done master lease agreements for years without any major issues with either owners or tenants, I never would have intended nor could have imagined being in this type of situation — I think it’s truly unfortunate all around.”

Tramm wrote that she wishes the best for everyone involved, will continue to tell her story and looks forward to “our community returning to the warm, neighborly place that we all know and love.”

Marsh stated in court that the experience has soured Jackson for her.

“Frankly, this sending the money and then having all of this lawyer stuff to deal with kind of hurt my trust with the area,” Marsh said in court. “It was really hard to find housing and frankly, I didn’t really have the funds.”

After vacating the Elk Run townhome, Cherry slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of his office for a few weeks. He’s since found housing in Idaho.

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