May 11, 2013 Updated: May 11, 2013 at 9:20 am
From the most authoritarian legislative session Coloradans have seen - one involving assaults on prosperity and freedom - emerged a few unlikely bills that favor property rights.
Far-left politicians such as Senate president John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, did everything possible to shift power from the individual to the state. They reduced gun rights, elevated the interests of trial lawyers over jobs-creating businesses, tried to take authority of home-rule cities and sought to increase electric rates for rural Coloradans. That's only a few highlights of the absurdity. If it empowered the state over the individual, legislative leadership tried to impose it.
The same politicians who want to control our lives do not want others to have similar powers. Just as the Legislature tried to enhance state government's authority, it took steps to reduce the authority of men and women who abuse members of homeowners associations.
People who live in HOAs are sometimes told what color to paint their homes. They are told what vehicles, if any, can or cannot be parked out front. They are told to change garage doors, moldings and curtains. They are told what they can and cannot plant in their yards. Most of the demands are legal, because homeowners willfully subject themselves to control when they buy homes within the jurisdiction of HOAs.
Most HOAs are harmless and helpful organizations run by good neighbors who merely want to keep a neighborhood clean, safe and desirable. Too many HOAs, unfortunately, wind up under the direction of bad players who lust for the power to control others.
Even some of the better HOAs - those that do not abuse members - are known to enforce landscaping standards that counter the economic and/or environmental interests of individuals and the community. They punish property owners if their lawns die, even during extreme droughts and water restrictions. Some mandate maintenance of non-native grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, that require large amounts of irrigation.
SB183 would stop to this craziness and empower homeowners to make more landscaping decisions on their own. As explained by Gazette's Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin, HOA bosses could still mandate planting and maintenance of drought-resistant native grasses but not exotic grasses that require too much water. The bill would also protect property owners from penalties associated with lawns that die during water restrictions.
Another good bill, HB1277, requires professional managers - people hired to enforce rules and collect HOA dues - to be licensed. Normally, we favor allowing market forces to determine which professionals succeed or fail within a playing field of minimal regulation. A cabinetmaker should rise and fall on reputation and results, not some piece of paper sold by government or a professional association. But someone hired by an HOA boss to help control private properties falls into a different category. This person is paid to control individuals, not to engage with them in voluntary trade. By requiring licensure, the state only restricts the authority these managers have over private properties and those who own them. It's a move that favors property rights and individuals.
HB1134 would require HOAs to register with the HOA Information Office and Resource Center. The bill also mandates more state-government study into the potential need for additional regulation of HOAs. It's another move that respects private property owners who may be abused by wayward neighborhood organizers.
HB1276 protects property owners from HOAs that pursue foreclosure in response to delinquent HOA dues and fines. It would require HOAs to offer payment plans to property owners and six-month grace periods to catch up before foreclosure proceedings begin.
This Legislature, given its track record, would not free property owners from legislative mandates to plant bluegrass. Nevertheless, legislators were eager to free private property owners from oppression imposed by other sources. We applaud them for that.