Local woman faces hearing officer in first compliance hearing for local housing authority
A Woody Creek woman is facing as much as $10,000 in fines for renting out a room in her deed-restricted home on AirBnb, which is a violation of Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority regulations.
Diane Kessler, who owns a house in the Woody Creek subdivision, appeared Monday during a virtual APCHA compliance hearing making her case that she was unaware of the rule that she can’t do short-term rentals on the property, or that she use it for income generation.
Each of those violations carries a $5,000 fine under the housing authority’s new schedule of fines that was approved this past March.
Kessler told APCHA hearing officer Mick Ireland she mostly rented the guest room to people on the weekends during the ski season, many from Denver who had the Ikon ski pass.
She said she rented it about 200 times between $80 and $100 a night since 2014.
Kessler removed the listing from the AirBnb site after she received a notice of violation from APCHA compliance officer Bethany Spitz earlier this month.
“I promise that I’ll never do it again,” Kessler said. “Now I know, and I am so sorry that I was not aware.”
Kessler, a massage therapist and ski instructor, as well as a single mother, told Ireland that she was using the income to help make ends meet with the mortgage, HOA fees, property taxes and special assessments, among other expenses.
She added that it costs about $2,000 a month for the house, and property taxes were just over $4,500 in 2019, an amount that has been increasing since the subdivision was incorporated into a metro district in 2017.
Homeowners in the former trailer park also had to each pay $14,000 in a special assessment for infrastructure.
She asked to not have to pay the fines, as she struggles like many in the valley living paycheck to paycheck.
“Please show me some compassion; it was not intentional and I am already being penalized because now I have to find other ways (to pay for the house),” she said.
Ireland, who presided over the agency’s first compliance hearing since the system was set up and removed the board of directors from having to decide compliance cases, said not being aware of the rules is not a good enough reason to not have to pay a penalty.
But at what amount is what he’ll have to decide in the coming days. He asked for Kessler’s tax records to help better make a determination.
“I think it is appropriate to take into account the violation and the seriousness of the violator and the ability of the violator to pay,” he said.
APCHA was made aware of the activity by an anonymous person who filed a complaint with the agency, stating: “Single in a house in Pitkin Co. housing renting via AirBnb. How about you install a family.”
Kessler asked during the hearing “who ratted on me?” and said she felt “singled out.”
APCHA officials explained that it was an anonymous complaint and could not divulge who it was.
Kessler said her neighbors had originally suggested that she rent the room on AirBnb, adding that there is similar activity in the neighborhood.
She also explained that she keeps the guest bedroom open for her son who comes home from college, as well as for visiting Native Americans who come to Aspen to share with the community their culture and traditions as she is the founder and executive director of the Aspen Indigenous Foundation, previously known as the Aspen Ute Foundation.
Before APCHA implemented a schedule of fines, the penalty for renting a portion of a deed-restricted unit was either eviction or forcing the owner to sell the property, which has been the case several times since the agency ramped up compliance efforts in recent years.
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