Sandy Quiller, who is obligated to pay hundreds of dollars in homeowners association dues for a home in Superior that no longer exists following the Marshall Fire, has found no relief since the Gazette put a spotlight on her story earlier this month.

"Next month, when I go to my new place, I'll be paying for water and trash," the 70-year-old survivor said, "the same things I'm doing now for my ruined property. Even a reduction in the fees would be really nice – like maybe taking off the trash removal fee?"
"My trash cans are melted!" she added.
Quiller's situation – she pays $362 a month to her HOA in Ridge at Superior for what she called a "hole in the ground" – is but one of numerous fire-related woes that Colorado's legislators are increasingly being asked to navigate, although it's unlikely they can immediately intervene.
And even if state officials want to help, it's unclear how exactly.   
That said, Senate President Stephen Fenberg signaled that, as Colorado faces more and more fires, HOA laws are ripe for review.     
"This is an area that, in all likelihood, needs to be addressed," Fenberg, who is from Boulder, said when asked about potential legislation that would address, for example, collection of HOA fees during an emergency, such as when a home is burned down during a wildfire. "We know that climate change is increasing the amount and severity of wildfires across the state. Just last weekend, four different wildfires broke out, threatening hundreds of homes. As we think about building more resilient communities in the face of the increased threat of natural disasters, I believe this is an area worth exploring."
Fenbert, who said the stories following the Marshall Fire have been devastating, described Quiller's case as frustrating.   
"It’s frustrating and unfortunate to see that in an already trying time, homeowners are still discovering new obstacles that stand in the way of their full recovery," he said.
HOA issues are complicated, and Colorado's statutes do not contemplate the kinds of scenarios brought about by a fast-moving wildfire that engulfs a thousand homes, such as what the Marshall fire did in December. In addition, it's likely too late for a legislative response, given the Colorado General Assembly only has a a few weeks to go before this year's session ends. One more thing to consider: new laws are typically proactive, not retroactive, so any proposal that deals with Quiller's situation is unlikely to specifically help her.
Indeed, the prevailing consensus is there's little, if any, that government at any level can immediately to help Quiller.   
Both the Boulder County district attorney and the state Attorney General’s Office, who responded to inquiries by The Denver Gazette, earlier said they have little or no authority over HOAs when it comes to complaints over dues. Gary Kujawslo, who is the education, communication and policy manager for the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, said the Division of Real Estate does not have a apparatus to undertake investigations or enforcement actions regarding HOA complaints.
In an email, Kujawslo said Quiller could decide to put a stop on her monthly $362 automatic payment, but, “If a homeowner in an HOA does not pay their required HOA dues, an HOA can take civil legal action to collect the amount, including turning the matter over to a collection agency, bringing a lawsuit, obtaining a money judgment, or even initiating a foreclosure action.” He added that when complaints come he refers complainants to the Colorado Bar Association.
Like others, Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, wants to help, but admitted he doesn't know enough of the nuances of the HOA issues Quiller faces or whether the legislature could or should intervene.  
"I don't know what kind of obligation that HOA has," said Gray, who is a finance attorney by trade. "I do believe it's a horrible situation and we've been doing more work to provide as much relief to Marshall fire victims as we can."
Gray said given the immediacy of the problems that victims of the Marshall Fire face, the HOAs are in a better position to help than the legislature. He urged HOAs to be pragmatic but also compassionate when dealing with fire victims.
"In my HOA, a big part of my HOA dues goes to landscaping, maintenance and trash collection, for example. Well, if the HOA is not having to pay those things because the homes were destroyed and the parks were destroyed," he said, "nobody’s using them because they're surrounded by rubble, you’d think expenses would go down."
"And it would be a prudent thing to ask to lower the charges to just what's absolutely necessary when you know that the people of your community are suffering," he said.
Gray emphasized that he understands that HOAs also have a fiduciary duty to be solvent.
"The other side of the coin would be to make sure that you’re still going to be viable when rebuilding starts," he said. "Again if your dues were set to pay for certain services that are not happening – you know what I mean? Having both reason and compassion would say we don't need to just keep charging the same amount … charge the bare minimum we need to stay afloat."

He added: "If we're not paying the trash company and we're not paying a landscaping company and we're not providing the services we were before because of the damage to the community, well then, that lack of cost should be passed on to the residents, who again have lost their homes. Many of them are really in a tough position. 

Quiller's townhome community has 72 structures. Three of those, including Quiller’s, were total losses to the Marshall Fire. Several others were damaged.
The Ridge at Superior’s HOA earlier informed the families who lost their homes that it has bills to pay, too, and its bylaws require all to keep paying. Section 9, article 5 reads, “No owner may waive or otherwise escape liability for the Common Expenses Assessment provided for herein by the non-use of the Common Properties or the abandonment of his or her Townhome Unit.” 

In a Feb. 23 email to members, the board explained that it had reviewed the association’s policy for homeowners who had been affected by the fire, and though their hearts were with the victims, “The monthly dues are essential to the financial health of our community as well as the Association’s ability to continue to operate and perform necessary maintenance and repairs.” 

Elina Gilbert, an attorney representing the Ridge at Superior, wrote in an email: “The Association remains responsible for paying fees associated with management, accounting, and legal services for the community.  Additionally, the Association must continue to provide common area maintenance, road maintenance and repairs, landscaping, trash pickup, and pay all water and sewer costs."

Load comments