Ruling may cause local rent ruckus |

Ruling may cause local rent ruckus

John Colson

Local governments are girding themselves for battle over the effects of a Colorado Supreme Court decision that may already be creating problems for affordable housing in the Aspen area.

Stories began circulating recently about landlords, aware of the court’s decision, who are threatening to raise rents on deed-restricted units to a level well above the limits set by agreements with local governments.

Officials worry that the landlords, believing local housing rules are no longer in force, have decided they can charge any rents they want to now.

A recent Colorado Supreme Court ruling threw out the rent-control provisions governing privately owned apartments, houses and condos in Telluride, which is experiencing an affordable-housing crisis similar to Aspen’s.

The position of the attorneys for Pitkin County and Aspen, however, is that the ruling was specifically aimed at Telluride’s rent-control regulations and may not apply to local rules.

Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said the decision contained no language about communities with legally created housing authorities, or about sets of regulations that grant concessions for developers in exchange for construction of price-controlled affordable housing.

Such is the case in Aspen and Pitkin County, where deals between local governments and developers result in affordable housing units bearing “deed restrictions” governing who lives in them and how much they pay to do so.

According to Ely and Aspen City Attorney John Worcester, until there is a legal clarification of exactly how the court’s decision might affect housing regulations in the Roaring Fork Valley, they believe the current rules are valid and in effect.

Ely and Worcester have said they want to talk with any local residents living in deed-restricted private housing, whose landlords are threatening to drastically raise rents as a result of the Telluride case.

And housing office Executive Director Mary Roberts said Ely, Worcester and housing office attorney Thomas Fenton Smith are now working on a “white paper” that describes the issues of the situation and lays out potential solutions, including possible changes in state law.

“We have an obligation to enforce the deed restrictions, and we will do that,” declared Worcester, although he added, “In some cases there may not be a whole lot we can do.”

Worcester said the court’s decision did not address cases where local government, by virtue of land use negotiations and deed restrictions, have “an interest” in the property meant to be used as affordable housing.

In Aspen and Pitkin County, “We [local governments] have an interest in those properties. That’s first-year law school,” Worcester said.

In fact, Worcester continued, a dissenting judge on the Supreme Court, differing with his fellow justices, suggested that Telluride might have avoided the whole problem if the city had set up a housing authority.

Concerning the rumors of landlords jacking up their tenants’ rents, Worcester and Ely both said they had not been presented with any specific cases.

“Obviously, I would prefer to have a case where it’s very clear that we have an interest in the property,” Worcester said.

Anyone with questions or problems revolving around the Telluride case and its local effects, Worcester said, should call him at 920-5055, Ely at 920-5190, or Smith at 925-2600.

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