Commissioners drop deed restrictions from Skyland homes

Old covenants left too many questions

Homeowners in the Skyland River Neighborhood will now be able to sell their homes on the open market after the Board of Gunnison County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to terminate the deed restrictions in the affordable housing community.



It is the second time this year the commissioners have agreed to remove deed restrictions from housing. Developer Gary Garland first made a request for similar action in the Larkspur subdivision last month.
Residents of the Skyland River Neighborhood, represented by attorney David Leinsdorf, first brought their concerns about an inability to sell deed-restricted properties to the commissioners in March.
For Robin Yost, who has lived in the neighborhood for the past four years, the deed restrictions have meant the difference between selling her house and watching potential buyers come and go after seeing deed restrictions that made them wary.
“We had a couple of scrupulous buyers that weren’t satisfied with the way the deed restrictions were written and I ended up losing those buyers,” said Yost. “So I’m looking for a solution that still provides some public benefit for the community but is a little more black and white.”
Like other affordable housing neighborhoods in the Gunnison Valley, the River Neighborhood required that buyers live in the area for a least a year or show an intention to put down permanent roots before they would be eligible to buy.
But unlike other areas of affordable housing, there was no maximum income set for potential buyers and no limit on the amount of assets a potential buyer could hold.
“What it really is, is a locals restriction with a focus on first-generation home ownership. The covenants are cumbersome… They have not been enforced by anybody since the Skyland River Neighborhood was born and surprisingly they haven’t really been enforced by title companies,” said Leinsdorf.
Title companies are supposed to have documentation showing that a potential buyer meets the deed restrictions before a title is transferred.
One of the problems Yost encountered was with language in the deed restrictions that left some question about whether the restrictions went with the property or ended with the first qualified buyer.
Leinsdorf explained to the commissioners that, as written, the deed restriction isn’t perpetual and requires sellers to look to one of four categories of qualified buyers over the course of a year before the deed restrictions go away and the property becomes available on the open market.
Yost has had her house on the market since August and the only people interested in buying it have not met the qualifications. The result, she said, was leaving the house on the market at the same price that was paid four years ago, without Yost entertaining any offers.
“There are six or seven of us in the neighborhood with houses on the market and several of us are in pretty serious financial danger,” said Yost. “More than likely, we’re going to have to take whatever buyer we can get.”
Although Leinsdorf originally asked the commissioners to shorten the period that an owner is required to look for qualified buyers from 12 months to three months and strengthen the covenants, the commissioners didn’t think the covenants could be revived.
“Unfortunately it’s sad to see this many units go out of the local ownership market and it is a setback, but the problem we have is that the covenants were not drafted correctly to begin with,” said commissioner Jim Starr.
“I think we’ve got to look at the reality that people have bought in and they’re in positions now that most of them are locals. Because it’s not affordable housing in the strictest sense, I tend to go with [terminating the deed restrictions],” he said. “It’s not an easy decision, but it is what it is.”
Commissioner Hap Channell acknowledged the difficulty of the situation, since the commissioners have been staunch advocates for increasing the amount of affordable housing available in the county, but ultimately recommended ending the deed restrictions.
“The fact of the matter is that these are not affordability deed restrictions and I’m much more concerned about price affordability than I am about occupancy restrictions, although I think it is important to have housing available for locals,” said Channell.
With the commissioners’ decision, homeowners in the River Neighborhood will now be able to sell their homes without deed restrictions.

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