HOA law: New overseer isn't the solution for those caught in HOA hell, but it's a start

Monday, Governor Bill Ritter signed a bill aimed at alleviating conflicts between homeowners and homeowner's associations, hoping to stem expensive and heated legal battles that come from the unregulated neighborhood-management industry.

State Representative Su Ryden, an Aurora Democrat, introduced the bill earlier this year with the aim of providing legal advice and mediation in response to horror stories like those in March's "Battlefield Suburbia." But with the dismal economy, she settled for a cheaper "information clearinghouse" for HOAs.

"From the stories that we've heard, in many cases, it seems that if they had known what their rights and responsibilities were when it first started, it could have avoided a lot of trouble early on," Ryden believes.

But she says a two-person HOA ombudsman office, which is primarily charged with providing HOAs and owners with information, is only the starting point.

"A homeowner might ignore a notice about doing something," she says, "thinking that there's nothing the HOA can do. And two or three months later, they have a lien on their house and they have to get a lawyer. That's the kind of thing we're trying to avoid."

Something else on the office's task list could be more even important in the long run.

"Another key piece of their responsibility is to track calls that come in and the inquiries and complaints, so that we can really get a baseline on what's going on out there," she says. The idea is that real data on Coloradans struggling with their HOAs may lead the way for better regulation of the industry in the future.

"We have anecdotal stories about what going on, but we don't have any real evidence," she adds.

The HOA ombudsman office will be housed under the Division of Real Estate, which is currently tangled in its own issues. Former director Erin Toll resigned last month amid criticism and an involuntary suspension for her alleged targeting of political foes.

Hiring for the HOA ombudsman jobs will begin next January, and unlike what early drafts of the bill sought, the position does not require extensive knowledge of homeowner and property law -- just "someone who can be pretty impartial and be without any conflicts of interest," Ryden points out.

She concedes that the final bill "wasn't as much as a lot of people would like to have seen. But I think a lot of people are really, really happy to have a place to get that information."

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