Aspen housing authority forcing former board member to sell her home after renting it out

A screenshot of a former Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board member's listing of her deed-restricted home on Airbnb.
Courtesy image

A former Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board member has been issued a notice of violation and could lose her home after renting out her taxpayer-subsidized unit on Airbnb.

Renee West, who served on the APCHA board from 2013 to 2016, owns a three-bedroom home at Aspen Highlands. She rented out her home numerous times in 2016 and 2017, according to APCHA and by her own admission.

In a May letter addressing APCHA’s investigation, West explained that she was struggling financially and unable to work in her profession due to an injury from a car accident. She felt she had no other choice but to rent the unit to help pay the mortgage.

A June 14 notice to West states that she violated the terms of her deed restriction on the property on Boomerang Road. The violations include leasing the home, using it as an income-producing asset and engaging in business activity on the property.

APCHA is demanding that she list the property for sale or request a hearing before the board to dispute the charges.

West wrote in a text message Wednesday night that she will appeal to the board “and in order to obtain credit for improvements made to my house while I owned it.”

She has until June 29 to respond to housing office. If she fails to do so, the housing authority will refer the matter to its legal counsel.

If West does list her home, the maximum value is $208,931, according to APCHA.

While she was a board member for three years, West did not attend any board meetings in 2016 and resigned in June of that year, according to Julie Kieffer, qualifications specialist for APCHA.

The housing authority found out about the rental activity April 2 when a man who declined to give his name went to their office and told staff that in March a ski coach had rented the unit for $7,000 for a week, Kieffer said.

West told APCHA officials that she didn’t rent the unit out this year, according to Kieffer.

In a May 16 email to APCHA, West explained in detail why she went the Airbnb route.

Her earning potential was limited because she is a single mother and had suffered injuries from a car accident in 2010. She was in so much pain that she was unable to work as a massage therapist, which is her skilled profession. She picked up other jobs when she could but was unable to make ends meet, so West started listing her home in 2016.

She also was unsuccessful in finding a roommate to help pay the mortgage and the HOA dues.

“I did Airbnb for a short period of time, when I had explored all other options and come up short,” reads West’s email to APCHA. “I used the money that came in from Airbnb to pay for my house expenses. … I hope that APCHA can understand that I did this out of desperation, after exploring all potential options and while I continued to apply for new jobs.”

She itemized 10 rentals in 2016, which brought in $5,560 in income. West said it was enough to pay for home expenses for three-and-a-half months.

She also admitted that she kept her listing up on Airbnb “because it was an easy way to show people the home for house swaps.”

Because West has to travel for her daughter’s swim meets, she was swapping her home with people elsewhere in the state. That way, she didn’t have to pay $100 or more a night in hotels, according to her email to APCHA.

House swapping is a violation of the unit’s deed restriction.

“The use and occupancy of the property shall henceforth be limited exclusively to housing for natural persons who meet the definition of qualified buyers and their families,” reads section 1 of the deed restriction.

APCHA’s position is that it does not consider renting through Airbnb a breach that can be rectified after the fact. Housing officials also question the validity of West’s statements.

“Her written explanations are concerning because she states she only rented Airbnb in 2016 when there are reviews from 2017,” reads a summary of the investigation by Kieffer.

There are 13 reviews that were on the Airbnb listing, which West had under the pseudonym “Lora.”

The listing’s description of the home had a header that read “Highlands Slopeside.” The summary described the unit as a luxurious, ski-in, ski-out home at the base of Aspen Highlands with marble and bamboo floors, granite countertops and is within steps to lifts, shops and restaurants.

West also advertised four real mattresses in three separate bedrooms. In her correspondence with APCHA, West said she and her daughter lived in the home while people came into the third bedroom for a night or two, and she only rented the entire house out when they went camping and were at a swim meet.