Aspen housing authority forces former board member to sell home after illegally renting on Airbnb
The Aspen Times
A former Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board member who illegally rented her taxpayer-subsidized home on Airbnb is being forced to sell her three-bedroom unit at Aspen Highlands.
The APCHA board Wednesday voted 6-1 that Renee West must list for sale the property on Boomerang Road.
West’s violations to the deed restriction and housing authority guidelines include leasing the home, using it as an income-producing asset and engaging in business activity on the property.
Housing authority board member John Ward was the dissenting vote.
An emotional West, who brought her daughter to the meeting and was on crutches, said she rented her home because she was struggling financially and unable to work in her field after an injury. She said she used the money to help pay the mortgage and HOA dues.
“It has been the hardest seven years of my life because I was rear-ended in an accident,” West said, “and I’ve been working and doing everything I possibly can to change my situation and to make my life better and to survive in this town.”
Many APCHA board members and officials said they were sympathetic to West’s situation, but among other concerns pointed to the message it would send if they were to disregard their rules — and in particular on a former housing board member.
Tom Smith, an attorney for the housing authority, urged the appointed officials to “seriously consider the legal implications for this and other cases if the board is not consistent” in its enforcement.
“We’re all disappointed for her, it is a sad day, but we need to be consistent in how we apply the rules and enforce the rules,” APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky said in an interview after West’s appeal. “Our goal (and) the board’s goal is 100 percent compliance. We want to ensure that the affordable-housing program is working for the community.”
Kosdrosky said this is especially important because of the public perception that “there is a great deal of people abusing and defrauding the (housing) system.”
The housing authority is working to “clean up” its system and set a higher standard, Kosdrosky said. He added that, “It’s incumbent upon board member to have a higher standard.”
West, who served on the housing board from 2013 to 2016, claims she only rented her unit in 2016; however, her Airbnb listing shows reviews from 2017. The Airbnb listing, under the pseudonym “Lora,” is no longer online but APCHA took screenshots of the profile revealing 13 reviews.
West said Wednesday that she travels for her daughter’s swim meets and, in addition to renting, used Airbnb to house swap with people who live where the competitions were held.
“I did this out of desperation after exploring all potential options,” including seeking a roommate, West wrote in a letter to the APCHA board.
Board member Becky Gilbert asked her at the meeting if she contacted the housing authority looking for a roommate, to which West said she did not.
Initially, APCHA qualifications specialist Julie Kieffer told The Aspen Times that a man who declined to give his name visited the housing office and told staff that a ski coach had rented the unit for $7,000 for a week in March.
At Wednesday’s meeting, West called that a lie and said, “There’s people within the larger part of my HOA … and people (who are) out to get me.”
She said that her car and her mom’s car that was in her garage have been keyed and that her “personal property” has been vandalized.
Assuming West submitted everything, Kieffer believes she generated a total of $5,000 renting her home. She said she has “no evidence” to support the $7,000 claim.
Kosdrosky said he does not know if APCHA has any legal ability in attaining profits made. The housing authority has not yet determined if West will receive credit for the home’s capital improvements, he said.
The “Highlands Slopeside” Airbnb listing described the home as a luxurious, ski-in, ski-out home at the base of Aspen Highlands with marble and bamboo floors, granite countertops and is within steps to lifts, shops and restaurants.
The maximum value of the home is $208,931, according to APCHA.
Tenants at the city’s oldest deed-restricted housing complex, Centennial Apartments, faced rent hikes as high as 30% in January that sent city, county, and APCHA officials into closed-door meetings with the relatively new landlord, Birge & Held.