Bad fences make bad neighbors for the Cherry Creek Farm HOA and its residents

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"The Myerses were a good case because they paid their dues," Chambers says, noting that many disgruntled homeowners will stop paying their dues during a dispute with their HOA, which only gives the HOA and their management companies more grounds to sue and tack on late fees and legal fees. "So then your choice is to pay the $15,000 in dues or they foreclose on your house. Somebody needs to put a stop to it," he says, and the first step is some sort of government oversight.

That's exactly what state representative Su Ryden is trying to deliver. The Aurora Democrat has co-sponsored a bill that would create an HOA ombudsman's office that could "advocate on behalf of unit owners, mediate disputes and act as a clearinghouse for information on the governing law." The proposed HOA Information/Resource Office would be funded, she says, by fees paid by the HOAs themselves.

Though her political boundary does not include Cherry Creek Farm, Ryden says she's heard plenty of complaints from homeowners and their HOAs who want some sort of resource besides the courts when things get nasty.

"We're trying to prevent litigation that really, in most cases, neither side can afford," she says. "I think that's a huge goal. If we can eliminate people getting so far down the road that that's where they're ending up, that would be huge."

So far, there has been no talk of regulating management companies like TMMC, she says. But TMMC's Haas says she'd welcome it "because it gives them a neutral third party. I'd have to really see how it plays out and what the ultimate role is."

Rita Guthrie, president of the Community Associations Institute, a non-profit trade group representing HOA interests, says the relationship between homeowners and their HOAs involves a lot of trust. "There should be open communication. The homeowner should never feel like they can't come to the board," she explains. But "if the board goes after the homeowner in a negative way, there probably isn't a whole lot of recourse but to go to court. The sad part for the homeowner is, when you're turned over to the attorney, that little $300 you couldn't afford all of a sudden becomes $600. It virtually doubles."

In her twelve years with CAI, Guthrie has listened to plenty of interesting stories, but she says this is the first time she's heard about a neighbor-on-neighbor assault after an HOA meeting. "It's really, really sad. That's not what we support."

By January 2010, most of the drama in Cherry Creek Farm had ended.

A new board, this time with five members, took over after a regularly scheduled election and chose to settle with the Myerses for $25,000 in the lawsuit that the couple had filed against the HOA. (Alvarez is still serving on the board; Larsen has left.) In addition, the Cherry Creek Farm HOA and TMMC parted ways.

But new board president Jayne Cordes says the settlement was simply a way to end the fighting. She believes the Myerses were in violation of HOA rules, plain and simple. "I didn't see the whole thing stopping unless there was a settlement to him. It was not an admission that 'Hey, Tom Myers, you were right and the HOA was wrong.'"

But Cordes has other concerns. Now that the legal battle is over, the HOA's budget is much tighter, and she will have to navigate the hearts of what several Cherry Creek Farm residents called a "divisive" community.

Alvarez says the damage has already been done. "We've lost almost all of our friends," she says. "No one speaks to us anymore because of Tom Myers."

And Myers says he's still being harassed. "I received a call approximately three weeks ago from zoning, and just last week I got a call from the sheriff's office." Still, he believes he's done what's right. "I didn't do this for me. I did it for the neighbors. I did it because I didn't want them preying on the weak homeowners."

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane