Aspen housing office may crack down on unpaid homeowner dues
July 9, 2009
ASPEN – The Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority is poised to take a hard line with owners of employee housing who refuse to pay homeowner dues.
The agency is pursuing several changes to the rules that govern the worker housing program, including new language that makes failure to pay homeowner dues a violation of the deed restrictions that are attached to each individual housing unit. Violating the restrictions can trigger an enforcement action that ultimately forces a homeowner to give up their unit.
The housing office is receiving more and more complaints from homeowner associations about owners who fail to pay their dues, according to Cindy Christensen, housing operations manager.
For some homeowners, recent economic struggles are to blame, but others don’t pay their dues even though they apparently have the means to do so, Christensen said.
“There are some that haven’t paid for five, six, seven years,” she said. “There are some people who haven’t paid since they moved in.”
Newer deed restrictions already contain language requiring owners to keep current with homeowner dues; the change in the guidelines will affect many other units, since their deed restrictions contain language that, by reference, adopts the rules contained in the ever-evolving guidelines, Christensen said.
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A complaint from a homeowners’ association will trigger action by the housing authority. If someone has only recently fallen behind on their dues payments, the housing office will direct them to work out a payment plan with the association, she said. Those who’ve long been delinquent in their payments may face a notice of violation that orders them to sell their unit.
Christensen said she doesn’t know how many owners in the program are failing to pay their homeowner dues.
Currently, the recourse most readily available to associations is placing a lien on the property and collecting the debt when the unit sells or when the owner refinances. Associations use the dues to pay for common-area maintenance and repairs within a complex.
“Granted, it’s an affordable housing program, but when you’re an owner, you have certain obligations,” Christensen said. “When a person doesn’t pay, especially in a small condominium association, everyone else has to pick up the ball.”
Among other proposed changes in the guidelines is allowing retirees to rent their employee housing unit for up to six months a year to another qualified employee; the retiree would have to reside in the unit at least six months a year and maintain it as their primary residence.
Another guideline amendment would give owners of employee units located within otherwise free-market complexes the opportunity to buy a different unit within the housing program. In such cases, the housing authority could sell the vacated condo on the free market. The rogue units have become problematic because employee owners sometimes face dues and special assessments, approved by their free-market neighbors, that they cannot afford. There are 12 such units in the housing authority’s inventory.
The guideline changes require approval by both the Pitkin County commissioners and the Aspen City Council. Commissioners granted initial approval Wednesday; the amendments will be back before them on July 22 for a public hearing and final action.
On the matter of homeowner dues, Commissioner Rachel Richards voiced concern that the housing office could face the cost of a protracted legal battle if a delinquent homeowner refuses to sell their residence. She suggested the housing office recoup that cost from eventual sale of the unit or share the expense with the homeowner association.