Lawsuit: couple broke housing rules
November 2, 2007
ASPEN ” The Aspen/Pitkin Housing Authority is seeking to evict a longtime Aspen couple living in employee housing who also own $600,000 in area property, including a home in Glenwood Springs.
A lawsuit filed against Debra and Louis Muzikar in District Court on Wednesday alleges that the couple broke housing rules by owning a Glenwood house that was supposed to be sold within a year of moving into a downtown Aspen employee-housing condo.
The three-bedroom Glenwood home on Blake Avenue owned by the Muzikars currently is valued at $353,490 by the Garfield County assessor. The Muzikars also are listed as owning a $236,000 duplex in Rifle that was purchased in 2000.
The housing authority has strict rules against owning property in the Roaring Fork Valley and for the unit that the Muzikars inhabit, there is a $150,000 limit on assets. Further, the lawsuit alleges that conditional approval for living in the unit was granted with the requirement that the Muzikars sell the Glenwood house.
The lawsuit states that the Muzikars were issued multiple notices of violation before a Jan. 4, 2006, public hearing, after which the housing authority required the Muzikars to vacate the unit.
Debra Muzikar, contacted at her job as the executive director of the Red Brick Center for the Arts, said she and her husband should not be evicted because he is the caretaker of the condominium complex. She said the Muzikars do not own the condo and have never paid rent because Louis does caretaker work for the homeowners association.
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“We caretake the property, the whole condominium complex, and, in exchange for that, we get housing,” said Debra Muzikar. “We make no income. Now we’re trying to get the rule changed. If something is linked to your employment, then it should not be linked to housing rules.”
Tom McCabe, executive director for the Aspen/Pitkin Housing Authority, disagreed.
“If you own property in the Roaring Fork Valley, then you should be living in it,” McCabe said. “Essentially, they are receiving housing as a benefit and they have property. It’s a clear prohibition. Owning other property is an issue.”
Debra Muzikar claims that a former employee of the housing authority told her the rule could get changed if they agreed to sell the house and move in. However, Muzikar said the employee had since left, and McCabe said he had no idea whether that representation is true.
Debra said her husband’s job has been as a property manager, so owning property would be part of that job. She lamented that she and her husband had not put ownership of the property into a corporation.
“We could have gotten around this little rule,” Muzikar said.
The county’s lawyer, Tom Smith, said that in addition to the normal deed restriction requirements, the Muzikars specifically had agreed to moving out of the condo if they didn’t sell their property. He said the county had a strong case because of that.
“We’re not trying to break any rules,” Debra Muzikar said. “We’ve been trying to work this out, and the housing board tries to do their best.”
Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.