The Seinfeld TV series in the 1990s had a running joke set in “Del Boca Vista,” a fictitious condo community in which his retired parents lived in Florida. Its Homeowners Association Board was a dictatorial, petty, nagging stereotype. That came to mind when I read a recent story in the Colorado Sun about ruthless HOA foreclosures in Colorado, with anecdotal complaints in heart-rending interviews with homeowners who lost their homes in judicial foreclosures initiated by HOAs for the non-payment of debts.
One such was an Aurora man who racked up $8,649 in unpaid dues, interest and legal fees after he replaced a stolen debit card and “inadvertently” stopped automatic dues payments. When his house was sold at auction for a fraction of its market value he lost hundreds of thousands in equity. That’s unfortunate but he has only himself to blame. How could he have not noticed from his monthly debit card statement that he wasn’t paying his dues? As the current president of an HOA board of a condominium building in which I’ve lived for twenty years, I have no doubt his board made him well aware of his unpaid dues. Foreclosure is a last resort and can take years.
The Colorado Sun is a journalist-owned digital news site with a distinct liberal bias. On its staff are some well-known former Denver Post retreads of that same political persuasion. Journalists in general — both reporters and opinion columnists — tend to lean left. It’s just the nature of their profession. Because their compassion trumps reason and common sense, they instinctively take the side of “oppressed” HOA members who fail to meet their financial responsibilities. Progressive Democrats in the state legislature don’t like HOAs either, passing a bill this year to investigate them.
Roughly 2.7 million people, half Colorado’s population, choose to live in one million residences in the 10,000 communities governed by HOAs. The Sun hypes the statistic that 3,000 judicial foreclosures have been initiated by HOAs since 2018, as if that’s humongous. That’s an average of 600 per year, just 6/100ths of one percent of those one million residences. And the Sun was aghast that 250 of those homes were sold at sheriff’s auction for a fraction of their market value. At 50 per year, that’s merely 5/1,000 of one percent of a million residences. I’m amazed it’s so low.
Apparently, personal responsibility isn’t part of the Sun’s consideration. HOAs aren’t low-income housing projects for poor people. If you buy a property within an HOA community you’re committing to pay you’re share of the upkeep. If not, be a renter instead.
HOAs aren’t an annoyance, they’re essential to perform tasks individual owners can’t do on their own. Collective services performed by employees or vendors include janitorial, trash removal, security, landscaping, and amenities, like swimming pools. A well-paid manager in a condominium building handles maintenance, financial, and administrative duties. There may even be a concierge. Then, there are other costs like heat, light, energy, water, property taxes, snow removal, paving, legal fees, amenities, and insurance to cite just a few. These and other expenses are financed by homeowner dues. An HOA maintains a reserve fund, also raised from those dues, to provide for major expenses.
HOAs aren’t dictatory outsiders enslaving their homeowners. The homeowners are the HOA. Members of the HOA Board of Directors are your neighbors, homeowners who volunteer to serve without pay, democratically elected by HOA members. The Board presents a budget for approval to the HOA members at an annual meeting. If there’s a dues increase, board members pay that, too. If the Board proposes, say, a half million dollar assessment for a new roof for a condominium apartment building, it must be approved by a vote of the members. And the Board’s directors pay it like everyone else. Assessments for common elements aren’t an imposition, they’re necessary and inevitable for members of an HOA community, just as homeowners outside of an HOA have to pay for projects on their own houses. And when there’s an assessment, your neighbors have no duty to pay for your share if you don’t want to or can’t afford it.
HOAs aren’t autonomous. They must comply with the law as specified in the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act which protects the rights of member homeowners. The foundational governing document of an HOA is its “Declaration” or “Covenants,” detailing the rights, obligations and restrictions of the owners in the community. Changes in it also require a vote of the members. It protects the interests of the majority from the abuse of a few. Some of those few don’t like it. That’s to be expected. Their remedy is to persuade the majority otherwise, obey the rules, or sell their property and live somewhere else.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.
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