Affordable-housing residents and landlords engaging in policy violations of all kinds would be subject to fines under a proposal going before the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority board of directors tonight.
A draft spreadsheet from APCHA staff in the housing board’s meeting packet, which leaves blank the proposed fines for most violations, is the starting point in what is likely to be a long discussion subject to review by Aspen City Council and Pitkin County commissioners.
At eight pages long, the spreadsheet includes dozens of violations, ranging from missing a filing deadline for requalification paperwork to illegal short-term rentals, rent overcharging, fraud and falling short of work and residency requirements. It breaks down offenses into categories of minor, moderate or severe for renters, owners and landlords.
Fines listed on the sheet under the “owners” subsection include $50 for missing the deadline to file a requalification affidavit by 30 days, $100 for failing to get a roommate approved and $500 for renting out a home without first securing an approved leave of absence and ensuring that the tenant is qualified.
No proposed fines are listed for the enumerated violations under the “renter” and “landlord” categories, with the suggested amounts up for discussion by the board.
“This schedule is subject to change substantially before a formal recommendation is made by staff or the board,” APCHA director Mike Kosdrosky wrote in an email. He added that it’s “important to take into account there are different levels of violations” and APCHA’s staff and board are beginning the process of setting a framework for how those violations, and their reasonable consequences, should break down.
All-or-nothing enforcement has limits
Currently, APCHA’s enforcement powers do not include an option for fines, though scofflaws are subject to a notice-of-violation process that could end with a forced sale, an eviction or a lost right to renew a lease. Kosdrosky, who took the helm in 2015, has argued that fines also should be in the toolbox, as they would represent a middle way between a slap on the wrist and losing one’s housing.
“The important thing to take away” on the fines proposal, Kosdrosky said, is the aim to implement a system where enforcement “is not an all-or-nothing proposition.”
“Not everything should lead to a forced sale or an eviction,” he said.
The APCHA board, appointed by elected city and county officials to oversee the housing system, has requested the discussion on fines, Kosdrosky added.
The growing prevalence of short-term rentals has highlighted the need for fines, Kosdrosky has argued. Currently, even if APCHA has proof of short-term-rental activity, there is little officials can do because the rules in most cases give residents an opportunity to “cure” compliance violations. In the case of short-term rentals, this means simply ceasing the practice once caught. With fines, APCHA could punish violations it knows have occurred, even if they have stopped.
Kosdrosky said it’s unlikely that APCHA would pursue making the fines retroactive.
Compliance enforcement is a major part of APCHA operations, and the agency is in the process of hiring a new full-time compliance officer. Currently, a staffer oversees compliance as part of a job that also deals with resident qualifications.
“For that job to be effective, they need the tools to be effective, Kosdrosky said.
APCHA is also in the process of building a database containing information on all 3,000 units under the agency’s oversight. This will entail sending a census to all households. Among the violations listed on the spreadsheet is a failure to return or accurately complete a census request.
Currently, Kosdrosky added, many hundreds of requalification affidavits — which renters are supposed to fill out and submit with their tax returns every two years to show that they continue to meet income and work guidelines — go unreturned every year. With no enforcement method short of a notice of violation, these types of paperwork lapses often go unpunished, meaning countless instances of rule-breaking are hiding in plain sight.
The goal of the fines is to increase the efficiency and protect the integrity of the housing program, Kosdrosky said.
“I think everyone realizes the scarcity of affordable workforce housing,” he said. “We have a duty to manage it, oversee it and enforce that people are playing by the rules.”
Kosdrosky speculated that the board will be discussing the fines for the next three months. Any guideline changes implementing fines would be subject to a call-up by Aspen City Council and Pitkin County commissioners. Either board could veto a change its members do not support and remand the policy back to APCHA for reconsideration.