Aspen housing office not backing down in dispute with townhouse owner
ASPEN ” A local doctor is flirting with contempt of court charges for not selling back an Aspen affordable housing unit to the public program, after it was discovered she had too many assets to qualify for ownership.
After two years of legal wrangling, anesthesiologist Amanda Tucker still refuses to sell her Ritz Carlton-Aspen Highlands townhouse to the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, a mandate handed down by the Colorado Court of Appeals in August.
Tom Smith, an Aspen-based attorney who represents the authority, said it recently notified Tucker via court papers that she will have to explain to the judge why she shouldn’t be held in contempt. Tucker is scheduled to appear before 9th Judicial District Court Judge Gail Nichols on Feb. 23 in a motion to show cause hearing.
The hearing will come after appellate court Judge Jerry N. Jones ruled in August that Tucker, who purchased an apartment at a foreclosure sale in 2005, had illegally lived in it because she didn’t meet housing authority qualifications. Specifically, she owned property in Hawaii worth $10 million.
The restrictions on the Highlands unit place a $91,000 cap on yearly earnings for owners with two dependents. Additionally, their net assets cannot exceed $150,000.
Since the unit was in the affordable-housing system with publicly recorded deed restrictions, Tucker was asked to provide proof that she was a qualified buyer, officials said.
The authority informed Tucker that she was required to put the unit up for sale because she was out of compliance. When she didn’t, it filed a complaint in district court in March 2006.
Tucker appealed after an October 2007 decision by 9th Judicial District Judge Daniel Petre, who ruled in favor of the housing authority. The ruling ordered that Tucker sell her deed-restricted unit, but she argued through her attorney, John Case, that the restrictions were a form of illegal rent control.
“She didn’t do anything to rectify it and instead dug her heels in,” Housing Executive Director Tom McCabe said.
Tucker said this week she doesn’t dispute she didn’t meet the authority’s qualifications, admitting she made a mistake by not qualifying before purchasing the unit for $179,000 on the steps of the Pitkin County Courthouse.
But now she’s being asked to sell it at the original selling price of $153,000, plus pay the authority’s attorney fees, which are currently $27,000, in addition to whatever she’ll have to pay Case.
Tucker is also disputing the authority’s refusal to pay for nearly $15,000 in capital improvements she made to the unit, which was gutted by the previous owner, who was attempting to remove mold that surfaced from a water leak.
“There were holes cut in the wall, the carpet was torn out and rats in there,” she said. “I’m totally willing to admit wrongdoing but I’m giving them back a new unit. There’s fault on both sides but let’s be fair: I would have never bought it if I thought I was pulling a fast one.
“I’m just not that stupid.”
Tucker stands to lose at least $58,000 from her original investment and she is still paying the mortgage on the unit. She said she moved out in September and is renting a place in Old Snowmass.
Case will argue before Judge Nichols that Tucker should at least get credit for the improvements she made.
“When Amanda got it, it was in grim shape,” he said. “As long as APCHA is made whole, she is taking a huge financial hit. Where’s the fairness?”
Smith said he is currently working with Case to avoid court proceedings.
“I hope we don’t have to go to a hearing on this,” he said. “We need to get the property on the market.”
McCabe said Tucker knew the score when it was discovered she didn’t meet the housing rules.
“When you are not in compliance, the price is frozen,” he said. “There is no surprise there, she was told that.
“I don’t know where she is coming from … the courts have decided.”
Tucker said she feels like she has been made the scapegoat in the authority’s beefed-up enforcement effort to catch would-be abusers of the affordable housing program.
“[They’ve] painted a picture of me as a rich person and I’m not,” she said. “They are coming down on me to make me an example.”
McCabe said the authority isn’t going to back down.
“We’re pretty tough, we just don’t give it away,” he said. “We’re pretty stubborn in protecting the program.
“We’re going to take them to the mat.”
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The city of Aspen and Pitkin County are partnering to buy a 274-acre tract of land off McLain Flats for $10 million on property owned by longtime residents Carolyn and Tom Moore.