Pitkin County addresses property inspection dispute
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Pitkin County Assessor Tom Isaac will consider notifying property owners of an impending inspection by one of his officers, after a complaint from an Aspen man landed Isaac in front of the county commissioners Tuesday.
Board of County Commissioners Chairman Jack Hatfield noted that the board has no authority over Isaac, who is an elected official in charge of his own policies and procedures.
But Hatfield got a call from the complainant about Isaac’s methods, and Isaac agreed to talk it over.
Ted Bennett told commissioners that he has lived in Aspen for 30 years and currently resides in the Smuggler neighborhood. He has his modular home on the market for $1.6 million, according to Isaac’s statement to the commissioners.
On June 19, one of Isaac’s appraisers showed up at an open house at Bennett’s home, at 317 Oak Lane, to inspect the house and take photos prior to assessing its value.
The appraiser was allowed in by “Ms. Patty Bennett, co-owner of the property,” after the purpose of the visit was explained, according to Isaac’s memo to the commissioners.
“Photos and notes were made as customary and our appraiser left within fifteen minutes,” Isaac’s memo stated. He said at the commissioners’ meeting that he believes other assessors in Colorado’s 64 counties may use similar tactics, but he was not certain.
The day following the inspection, Ted Bennett called Hatfield to complain. A week later he called Isaac “and explained his concerns about the inspection,” at which point Isaac apologized and agreed to tear up the photos and notes from the inspection.
At Tuesday’s work session, Bennett said, “I’m not here to stop Tom from doing his job,” but added that he believes Isaac’s appraiser acted improperly by taking photos at the home.
“As soon as you pulled out a camera, you’re out the door,” he explained. He said he had talked the matter over with friends, who also agreed.
“It just didn’t seem right,” he said. “He [the appraiser] has gathered evidence inside my home without a warrant, without permission from me.”
And, he said, Isaac admitted that the evidence “could be used against me” if it came down to a disagreement about how much he owes in property taxes.
He said the inspection seemed to be a violation of his constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights that guards against unreasonable search and seizure.
Having grown up in southern Arizona, he said, “our homes are very, very sacred places” to the people living there, and when a government official comes into your home, “you’re violated. I don’t like the way this was done. I thought it was very sneaky.”
Bennett suggested a form letter be sent by the assessor’s office to property owners in advance of any inspection, announcing the inspection was imminent and asking the owner’s permission for pictures to be taken. He also questioned the assessor’s right to come into his home when he’s not there.
Isaac, for his part, maintained that assessors have the statutory right and obligation to conduct inspections, and that he works with the local real estate community to learn when homes are open for visits by potential buyers.
“We take advantage of it,” Isaac admitted. “It gives us a record of what’s happened [in a particular house]. It makes it more efficient for us.”
And, he said, “We’re not sneaky.” He said his appraisers announce themselves, provide identification if asked, and take photos because it allows them to get in and out quickly. These inspections permit his office to keep up with improvements to a property, some of which are done without a building permit and thus are unknown to his office.
In any event, Isaac said would talk to the Aspen Board of Realtors, which he said is the agency in charge of open houses and with whom he has worked closely in the past.
Isaac said he does not have the staff to notify every property owner that an inspection is imminent, and is not sure a notification form is appropriate.
“That’s up to them,” he said, referring to the real estate agents. “If they want to have some sort of notification, that’s all right with me.”
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