The Man With the Metal Ceiling
Bob Tarde has lived in the same one-bedroom apartment in Centennial for more than two decades, plenty of time for him to decorate it with hundreds of forest-scene plaques, "home sweet home" garb and other accumulated tchotchkes. Behind the knickknacks, Tarde has also painstakingly installed wood-paneled walls, which give off the aroma of scratched cedar as much as the distinct impression that he lives alone.
But his latest quirky addition really breaks the vibe.
Tarde has crafted a spaceship-like aluminum ceiling to block the flow of tiny droplets of water, which consistently permeate his warped and browning ceiling and invade his bathroom and living room. The whole thing threatens to give any day and damage, among other things, his dominant wall's facade of vintage rock vinyl.
And he's not the only one. The entire roof of Highline Meadows building 130 is shot, like several others in this covenant-controlled complex of 298 units in ten buildings.
"It's critical that the roof is replaced, because we don't know how much longer it will last," says Tarde, who purchased his home in 1996 but had rented seven years before that. He pays $182 monthly in dues to the Highline Meadows Homeowners Association for upkeep and says he doesn't understand where the money is going. Units with more bedrooms pay up to $322.
The situation has created a bitter battle between residents of "Highline Ghettos," as they call it, and the HOA and its management company, Castle Rock-based TMMC. In fact, things have gotten so heated that the police have been called periodically to keep the peace at HOA meetings.
At least two homeowners refused to pay special assessments charged by the HOA, saying they were protesting the maintenance problems, while others have complained to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Governor Bill Ritter about asbestos problems in the nearly four-decade-old complex. CDPHE records indicate that since 2006, there have been seven asbestos-removal efforts in Tarde's building alone, the most recent in late February.
In 2009, the HOA sued Paul Rather, who owns a condo in the complex, because he'd refused to pay special assessments in 2007 and 2008; he ended up only having to pay for one year. Rather says he believes the HOA and TMMC are to blame for a host of improprieties, including illegally electing boardmembers and collecting special assessments for improvements that haven't happened. He also runs a website, www.highlinemeadows.org, chronicling all of it.
As homeowners continue to have problems with the roofs and other maintenance issues despite increasing dues and special assessments, Rather says he is working to gather support for a class-action suit against the HOA and TMMC.
Then there's Richard "Scott" Reberg, Tarde's neighbor down the hall, who with his mother, JoAnn, bought his third-floor unit in 2006 with plans to upgrade it and sell it. In June 2007, as Reberg was getting ready to close the deal, an inspector pointed out that the apartment had a porous roof and could be an asbestos risk. Reberg eventually had to move into the apartment because all of his money is tied up in the place and he wasn't able to sell it. He now lives with a large crack dissecting the living room ceiling and a basketball-sized puncture above his bedroom.
"It's going to cave in; it's only a matter of time," Reberg says, adding that the dripping water has activated the asbestos in the roof.
In November, TMMC and the HOA successfully sued Reberg for $9,000 because he stopped paying his dues when he learned of the damage. But Reberg has hired attorney Craig Chambers, who successfully took on the Cherry Creek Farm HOA across town, and filed suit against the Highline Meadows HOA, claiming $110,000 in damages. Reberg says the apartment has lost all of its value because of the lack of maintenance.
Homeowners, he says, are usually helpless against the HOA. "If you start asking questions around here, they send these attorneys — these scumbags — so you can't possibly be up to date on your dues," he says. "Most of the people around here don't have money. It's just disgusting."
TMMC spokesperson Denise Haas wouldn't comment about Reberg since his case is ongoing, but she says the problems began with previous HOA boards, who didn't increase dues when they should have and didn't go after delinquent homeowners.
If they had, the current HOA board might have the money to begin the fixes. Although she admits the aging complex is in need of some serious repair, including asbestos removal, as it stands, all of the HOA dues go to cover basic maintenance and upkeep, like watering the green areas and maintaining the parking lots.
Haas also explains that the HOA can't get a bank loan to fix all the roofs at once because there are so many delinquencies from homeowners who didn't pay their dues in past years. As a result, repairs can only be done in increments.
"We've tried to explain to [Tarde] at several meetings," she says, adding that many of the residents have become uncivil in addressing the issues. "People who are exacerbating the situation without coming to truly understand how an HOA operates and what the real issues are only make things harder for the board and what they need to do," says Haas, who spoke on behalf of the HOA board of directors. "[The board] does try to do what's right and in the best interest of the homeowners. The roofs — they're aware; they are attacking the problem. It's just that the problem isn't going to get better overnight. The problem didn't happen overnight."
Tarde says he's just trying to get his questions answered, and accuses the HOA and TMMC of retaliating against him with letters demanding that he make changes to his apartment, including his satellite antenna's placement.
To fight back, Tarde has made 32 YouTube videos (for a link, go to the Latest Word blog at westword.com) documenting heated shouting matches during the monthly HOA meetings and other related material.
"I've had a lot of time on my hands," he says. "It's blatant that you can see we're being mismanaged. The money doesn't add up; we're basically screwed."