Rent’s due at Centennial; some paid less, some paid as much as in January |

Rent’s due at Centennial; some paid less, some paid as much as in January

The 148-unit Centennial rental apartment complex in Aspen’s east side neighborhood qas been sold to an outside real estate investment firm for nearly $51 million. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The first of the month brought changes in rent for some tenants at Centennial Apartments, but it appears most are still paying the same higher rent they paid in January.

At least 26 units of the 148-unit complex received adjustments on their rents, according to a tenant whose rent payment decreased by 17% from January’s charge. They said the Centennial property manager, Natalie Cairo, told them that rent was adjusted at 26 units.

Birge & Held declined to confirm the number of units that received an adjusted rent for February or how they determined which units received an adjusted rent. They also declined to comment on whether tenants will see more changes in rent charges in the future.

Still, some tenants are stuck with the steep rent hike they first paid in January. After tenants contacted the city in December for help, staff advised tenants to pay the new rents to prevent delinquency and late fees while the city, county, and APCHA worked to resolve the dispute with Birge & Held.

One tenant, who has lived in Aspen for decades and moved into their current Centennial unit in 2004, was notified in December of an impending 32% increase in her rent. 

All renters received a notice of rent raises, but the percentage varied from unit to unit. The majority of units faced an approximate 5% rent increase in January, according to a city official not yet authorized to speak publicly on Centennial matters. 

They said a credit was applied to their rent in February, but the increase still ended up amounting to a 26% increase from what they originally signed on their lease. 

It is not clear what the credit applied to tenants’ rent charges signifies.

The Times is withholding tenants’ identities, as they have said they fear repercussions from APCHA or Birge & Held. 

APCHA Director Matthew Gillen emphasized, “APCHA does not retaliate and applies the APCHA regulations in a consistent manner,” in an email to The Times following a previous story. 

The tenant with the 26% increase also said that APCHA recently upgraded their income category from Category 1 to Category 2. But their new rent falls under the Category 4 maximum rental rate, $2,018/month.

“I don’t want to get in trouble and get kicked out completely. But I am critical of the process and of my government offices,” the tenant said. “How was there no remedy put in before (now)?”

They expressed frustration at the change because their personal finances were based on the set caps for rent and income. 

According to the APCHA website: “The rental rates apply and shall be in effect for at least a 6-month period from the commencement date of the initial lease. Thereafter, the maximum monthly rental rate may be increased only to the extent that the Regulations in effect permit. If there is a conflict between the Regulations and the deed-restriction on the rental property, the most restrictive document will prevail.”

Gillen declined to comment on the apparent discrepancy between the tenant’s category and actual rent, citing a need for more information on the specific case and an inability to comment on Centennial matters.  

In an addendum tagged onto at least two leases reviewed by The Times, Birge & Held has the right to raise rents. It reads: “Pursuant to the Agreement with Aspen/Pitkin Housing Authority, Landlord is permitted to increase the monthly rent during the term of this lease, beginning on January 1st in each subsequent year. The maximum monthly rental amount for all such units in the Centennial Apartments may be increased over the maximum monthly rental permitted for such units during the prior calendar year, whether actually rented at such rate or not during the prior calendar year, by a percentage amount equal to the percentage change in the Urban Index during the twelve months ending on July 31 of the prior calendar year. Landlord agrees to give tenant not less than ten (10) calendar days notice prior to the effective date of Increase.”

This references a 1994 settlement between original Centennial owner Centennial Aspen II Limited Partnership and Pitkin County, the Board of County Commissioners of Pitkin County, the city of Aspen, the City Council of Aspen, the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority, and the Board of Directors of APCHA over the right to increase rental limitations.

At least one tenant does not have this addendum attached to her lease, and said she does not recall signing an addendum with that language. 

Centennial Apartments is the oldest deed-restricted complex in the city with 148 affordable-housing units. 

The deed restrictions are set to expire at the end of the 21st year following the death of the last member of the Pitkin BOCC who approved the development. Michael Kinsley is in his 70s and lives in Old Snowmass. 

The city of Aspen in was set to buy the deed restrictions for $10 million, but the deal fell through in 2020 because the two sides couldn’t agree to terms.

If the city had bought the deed restrictions, rent prices would have been capped in perpetuity.

The city, county, and APCHA continue their closed-door negotiations with Birge & Held, discussing interpretation of the settlement and the rent hikes tenants face — most recently, on Tuesday, Jan. 31. 

A time or date for the next executive sessions regarding Centennial is not clear, nor is it clear when local officials will be able to speak publicly on the matter.