Rep. Janice Rich rescues homeowners locked out of common space

A bill that House Rep. Janice Rich introduced in response to the plight of Grand Junction residents who were unjustly shut out of their common space by an overzealous HOA, “Homeowners’ Reasonable Access to Common Areas,” gets signed by Governor Polis at the state Capitol in Denver on April 12, 2022. (Left to right: House Rep. Edie Hooton, Rep. Janice Rich, Gov. Polis, Sen. Tammy Story)

A year ago this blog highlighted the plight of homeowners who suddenly found themselves repeatedly locked out of their own common space park for months at a time by an overzealous homeowners association (HOA). The example was the Moonridge Falls subdivision in Grand Junction where, without consulting homeowners, the HOA locked the ornamental gates to the home owners’ small open space park in winter due to a sudden fear that ice on the 2-foot deep irrigation pond in the park posed a danger. No one had been injured on the pond, there hadn’t been any accident or incident involving the pond, the pond ices over every year and the park hadn’t been locked before as far back as most neighbors could remember. No other subdivision in the area with irrigation ponds locks  owners out of the common space, and the City of Grand Junction doesn’t lock the public out of parks that have irrigation ponds, like Canyon View Park, which remains open all winter.

No amount of reasoning with the HOA or compromise proposals could convince the Moonridge Falls HOA to restore owners’ access to their property, even though all owners pay the cost of supporting and maintaining the area. Nor did the HOA Board inform owners about the closure before locking everyone out. The HOA also did not state a time limit on how long owners would be kept out. Awhile after the ice melted in spring, the HOA finally opened the gates to the park again, but then locked them again for months in summer after an irrigation pump broke, even though the park was unaffected by the problem. Again, the HOA would not compromise with homeowners who proposed inexpensive, reasonable solutions that would preserve their access while keeping the pump safe.

In all, residents of Moonridge Falls lost access to their open space for a third of a year between December, 2020 and December, 2021 for what seemed like spurious reasons. Eventually the HOA stopped entertaining owners’ questions about the lockout and started sending them to the HOA’s attorney for any questions about the lockout, jacking up the subdivision’s legal costs, an expense borne by all of the homeowners in the subidivision.

Owners realized they were completely powerless to deal with this recurring problem. No state law addressed this kind of situation where a dictatorial HOA was willfully and repeatedly depriving homeowners of use and enjoyment of land and amenities they all own, for unlimited durations of time, with no notice and no end point.

With nowhere else to turn, homeowners contacted Colorado House Representative Janice Rich and asked for help, and early in the 2022 legislative season Rep. Rich introduced a bill HB22-1040, “Homeowners’ Reasonable Access to Common Areas,” to address the problem.

New law protects and preserves owners’ access to common elements in subdivisions

Rep. Janice Rich

The bill states that, “in regulating the use of common elements, an association shall preserve and protect unit owners’ ability to use and enjoy common elements and shall not unreasonably restrict or prohibit unit owners’ access to, or enjoyment of, any common element.” Acceptable reasons for closing common areas are maintenance, repair, replacement or modification of the element, or to ensure its structural integrity. In the event an HOA has to close off an area for these reasons, it must give all unit owners notice in advance of the closure, explain why the common element is being closed, put a time limit on the closure, and provide contact information for someone who has knowledge about the closure, whom homeowners can contact to ask questions about it.

Testimony for the bill revealed that this was far from being an isolated or one-off problem.

Across the state, and especially in condominium communities that have a lot of common amenities like hot tubs, meeting rooms, gyms and recreation rooms, owners were found to be dealing with the same problem: extended closures of common areas for long periods and for unstated, spurious or nonspecific reasons. It was common for HOAs to fail to notify owners of closures, fail to give owners explanations for closures or give dates when closures would end. And all this time, owners had to keep paying for those amenities through their HOA dues, and if owners want to rebel against this deprivation by not paying their dues, the HOAs could fine them, charge them interest and slap liens on their homes for the fines plus interest and attorney fees. In other words, the HOAs had all the power in this situation and home owners had none. It had become even more of a problem than ever in the pandemic.

It also turned out that lots of legislators live in HOAs, and “got” why this bill was needed. Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert (R), who lives in an HOA, gladly co-sponsored the bill in the Senate. Among those testifying in favor of the bill was John Seward, head of the Central Park neighborhood (the area of the former Stapleton Airport). Mr. Seward’s HOA has 12,000 members and 1,400 acres of common space. Mr. Seward called the bill a “no-brainer.” Several legislators agreed, and lamented that they were having to legislate what amounted to common courtesy, but they acknowledged it was needed. There was a small amount of opposition that was largely dismissed by the House and Senate committees.

The bill was popular. It flew through committees in both the House and Senate, and proved so non-controversial that it was put on the consent agenda for the full Senate, where it passed easily. It was signed into law by Governor Polis on April 12, 2022.

Janice Rich is an example of a Republican who will listen to her constituents’ problems no matter what party they belong to, and who will seriously considers them and do her best to respond to them. She was able to make bipartisan progress, not just for Mesa County citizens who live in HOAs, but for people throughout the entire state, despite the divisiveness and acrimony that is now so routine in our political system.

Sometimes government works.

This is a good example.

Thank you, Rep. Rich.

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