• Digital HOA communication network a valuable way to reach Black Forest fire victims

    Mon, June 24, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    El Paso County District 1 commissioner Darryl Glenn, far right, speaks to the public during a press conference on Sunday, June 16, 2013 at the Pikes Peak Community College Rampart Range campus. Photo by Junfu Han. The Gazette.

    El Paso County District 1 commissioner Darryl Glenn, far right, speaks to the public during a press conference on Sunday, June 16, 2013 at the Pikes Peak Community College Rampart Range campus. Photo by Junfu Han. The Gazette.

    When El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn reached out to homeowners associations to communicate with victims of the Black Forest fire, he was tapping into a powerful network.

    Over the years, many HOAs have built active websites and thorough databases of email addresses and phone numbers. Many use chat rooms to discuss issues. They have Facebook pages to reach people. They send out email blasts. And they’ve conditioned residents to check in frequently online to stay in touch.

    That wasn’t always true.

    About 10 years ago, longtime neighborhood activist Jan Doran had the vision that HOA websites and databases could be valuable tools for reaching their residents. And they could be leveraged to link various HOAs so one group could see what the others are doing.

    As president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, or CONO, Jan encouraged HOAs to start building these digital networks. CONO is a volunteer group of HOA members who lobby the city and advocate for issues important to neighborhoods, especially in development issues and city planning.

    “It has always been my vision for HOAs to be talking to people they represent and to be talking to each other,” Jan said. “That’s how it all started.”

    Longtime Colorado Springs neighborhood activist Jan Doran in a 2013 file photo.

    Longtime Colorado Springs neighborhood activist Jan Doran in a 2013 file photo.

    Glenn recognized that power when he urged folks, while the Black Forest fire was still burning, to email him at darrylglenn@elpasoco.com, and get on his list as he built his grassroots network. He was taking advantage of the infrastructure Jan and CONO are largely responsible for building.

    Glenn described it as a no-brainer to harness the HOA communication network when disaster struck in Black Forest, destroying 509 homes and killing two people.

    In coming months and years, the county will need to stay in touch with families that have scattered in search of temporary housing. There will be lengthy discussions about rebuilding in the forest and myriad issues to debate.

    “We need an efficient way to disseminate information,” Glenn told me. “And we need boots on the ground telling us what’s happening in the neighborhoods.

    “But you can’t do anything until you have a way to communicate.”

    Glenn said the county will continue to rely on newspapers and television news to get the word out about fire recovery efforts and issues facing homeowners.

    “But we are going to use all forms of communication,” he said. “We wanted to put a big net around the burn area so we have a reliable communication network. We want to get them involved and engaged early, so when it comes time to rebuild, restore and recover, they have a seat at the table on Day One.”

    Since issuing his call at a several news briefings on the fire, more than 100 HOAs and individual neighborhood residents have responded, signing up to be part of Glenn’s network.

    He noted that many of the tiny subdivisions across Black Forest have inactive HOAs or none at all.

    “This is an excellent opportunity for them to establish a neighborhood network,” he said.

    That’s just as Jan Doran envisioned it: Neighbors getting together to talk, help each other, work with their elected leaders and solve problems.

    “It just makes,” she said, “all the sense in the world.”

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  • HOA BOSS TALKS REGULATIONS AT TOWN HALL

    Mon, March 25, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    . UPDATE . NEW. VIDEO .

    We have achieved video from HOA boss Gary Kujawski‘s town hall meeting on Saturday.

    Follow this link to a YouTube video of the first 90 minutes or so.

    To see the second portion of the meeting, click here.

    Finally, the third portion is visible here.

    I don’t expect the video to go viral or anything. But don’t look for it to viral like some “Gangnam Style” clip.

    HOA MEETING 009

    .

    The new state HOA boss wants Colorado Springs residents to know he’ll help them any way he can in their dealings with their homeowners associations.

    But he won’t give them legal advice or investigate allegations of rogue boards, illegal elections, secret meetings, unfair covenant enforcement or discrimination because the  Colorado General Assembly hasn’t given him that authority.

    Yet.

    That could change depending on what lawmakers do with several pending bills. And about 75 people ignored the snow Saturday morning to spend three hours talking about the possibilities with Gary Kujawski, the HOA Information Officer.

    Kujawski outlined the duties of his  HOA Information Office and Resource Center — mainly registering HOAs, dispensing information about the laws governing HOA boards and managers, and fielding complaints.

    And he tried to gauge audience interest in proposals before the Legislature, such as House Bill 1134, a major bill that would expand his office and grant him investigative and enforcement powers.

    For example, a large majority of those in attendance agreed there is a need for mandatory licensing and bonding of professional HOA managers and their companies.

    But no real consensus emerged over the idea to require mediation in HOA disputes or to create a referee system for dispute resolution.

    Other ideas included creating an online rating system of HOAs and management companies, and allowing for monitoring of elections and term limits for board members.

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski discussed possible regulation of homeowners association during a three-hour town hall meeting Saturday.

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski discussed possible regulation of homeowners association during a three-hour town hall meeting Saturday.

    The session was a wide-ranging conversation that at times was a how-to-govern workshop and other times a question-and-answer session.

    Many in the crowd were experienced HOA board members who were defensive of complaints and challenged the need for state regulation of their activities. Others were residents who complained of the need to punish rogue boards.

    Early in the meeting, one man in the crowd demanded to know: “What’s prompting all this talk that HOAs are such demons?”

    Another attendee said she “takes exception” to the notion all HOAs are run by control freaks who simply want to punish people and steal from residents.

    Many seemed surprised when Kujawski told them his background as a longtime HOA resident and board member. In fact, he was president of a large HOA because: “I was afraid to get off the board, afraid of what would happen in the community.”

    In his new role, however, Kujawski said he is neutral on HOA issues.

    “I am not a member of a consumer advocacy group or a trade group,” he said, insisting that no one in state government wants to regulate HOAs “just for the sake of regulation.”

    But he gets 25 calls a day, on average, from folks with questions and complaints. Some are frivolous and can be resolved by simple conversations, he said.

    “But a lot of people call me in tears,” Kujawski said. “They are dealing with some tough issues. They are frustrated. Some are complicated problems and they need legal counsel.”

    As expected, many in the crowd wanted advice on their personal problems with HOAs, such as a woman who said her HOA president is a dictator who adjourns meetings, sends everyone home, locks the doors then “finishes the meeting in the dark.”

    Kujawski said some of the horror stories are extreme and are examples of the types of cases he might investigate and take enforcement action against if lawmakers decided to grant him the authority.

    Some in the audience were upset they had to register their HOAs every year and pay dues, about $16 this year. Others noted just 309 individuals filed complaints with the office in 2012 and suggested there was no need for regulation given upwards of 2 million Coloradans live in 8,300-plus HOAs statewide.

    But Kujawski noted that few callers bother to file formal complaints since there’s nothing he can do for them.

    And Kujawski promised to return in May or June for another town hall meeting, in perhaps a larger venue with a panel of experts to field more questions.

    Attendees on Saturday gave him warm applause at the end and generally praised his presentation.

    “It was really valuable,” said Eric Fitz. “If nothing else, now we know where to go for help.”

    That opinion was shared by Marylyn Massey, who gave Kujawski a written complaint about her HOA after the meeting.

    “I learned a tremendous amount today,” she said. “It was very helpful. And I’m hoping to talk to him about my concerns with my HOA at the Arbors at Mountain Shadows.”

    Kujawski also urged everyone to stay tuned to action in the final weeks of the General Assembly because he expects several HOA-related bills to come up for debate and action.

    Be sure to read Side Streets for updates on all HOA legislation.

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski discussed possible regulation of homeowners association during a three-hour town hall meeting Saturday.

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski discussed possible regulation of homeowners association during a three-hour town hall meeting Saturday.

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  • BILLS TAKING AIM AT HOAS MOVING THROUGH ASSEMBLY

    Thu, March 21, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

     

    Ryden Carroll X

    While gun control debate has dominated the Colorado General Assembly, work is underway on a few bills dealing with  homeowners associations.

    At the beginning of the 2013 session, legislative leaders talked about plans to rein in rogue HOA boards. A key proposal, by Sen. Morgan Carroll and Rep. Su Ryden, both Aurora Democrats, called for an overhaul of the HOA Information Office and Resource Center.

    Carroll and Ryden want to transform it from a data-collection bureau into a watchdog agency with authority to investigate HOAs and enforce state laws regulating the boards.

    They want to upgrade the role of HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski to make him into what I call an HOA czar charged with investigating alleged HOA infractions and abuse.

    They introduced their plan as House Bill 1134 but the proposal has not come up for debate. It sits in a House committee as its sponsors work to gather support.

    “Some changes are being considered to figure out how we can get the enforcement we want within a budget we can afford,” Carroll said Tuesday.

    Gary Kujawski

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski

    While she may be frustrated at the slow pace of the bill, Carroll said she is encouraged that Kujawski is touring the state, holding a series of town hall meetings to hear for himself the problems being reported by many of the 2 million Coloradans living in 8,300-plus HOAs statewide.

    In fact, Kujawski will visit Colorado Springs on Saturday to talk to area HOA residents about their experiences. (There are no remaining seats available for the event but I’ll report on it in Monday’s Side Streets.)

    “He’s doing a listening tour to understand the scope of the problems,” Carroll said. “By going on the road and hearing the problems and seeing they are real, he’ll be able to come back and explain the depth of the need for enforcement power. It’s crazy not to be able to do anything about all these problems.”

    An unexpected HOA reform bill making progress in the Legislature deals with electric cars and the rights of HOA residents to install charging stations in their condominium complexes.

    The proposal, Senate Bill 126, would make it illegal for an HOA board or any landlord to block installation of a charging station at a tenant’s expense. Carroll said the bill was a response to a problem at a Denver condo complex.

    Under SB 183, HOAs would not be able to fine homeowners whose lawns die because they observe watering restrictions, which are anticipated this summer amid the current drought.

    It also overrides any covenants that demand water-guzzling turf lawns and ban xeriscape  landscaping methods featuring drought-tolerant plants.

    The bill has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House.

    Colorado Statehouse Photo================

  • JURY SLAPS HOA IN SECONDHAND SMOKE DISPUTE

    Wed, March 13, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    smoker

    Smoking has been banned from most public buildings. It is forbidden in restaurants and bars. It is outlawed in airplanes and generally is socially unacceptable.

    Is the battle of the butts now coming to homeowners associations? Don’t HOAs have enough to worry about already?

    Better add it to the list, I’m afraid, of issues facing the boards and management companies of HOAs.

    Consider this: A jury in Orange County, Calif., has found an HOA board negligent for failing to resolve a secondhand smoke dispute between neighbors at a  condominium.

    The dispute involved a couple upset that their neighbors smoked heavily on their patio and sidewalk. The couple said the smoke aggravated their son’s asthma. Eventually, the family moved to escape the smoke and sued in March 2011.

    After a five-week trial, jurors recently awarded the smoke-averse family $15,500, finding the condo association and management failed to ensure the non-smoking family’s right to the “quiet enjoyment” of their own unit.

    The family received $6,000 was for economic damages and $9,500 for emotional distress. The HOA was responsible for 60 percent of the damages, with the remainder to be paid by the management company and tenants.

    Smoke has been an issue in the Colorado Springs area.

    Side Streets has featured a neighborhood dispute over smoke from cigars and cigarettes infiltrating a neighboring townhome.

    I’ve written about hospital employees angering neighbors by puffing on nearby sidewalks.

    Another column focused on smoke from a neighbor’s fireplace choking a neighbor in her home.

    And I even wrote about smoke from a backyard fire pit igniting a neighborhood feud.

    Follow this link to the entire Orange County Register story.

    About 35 feet separate the chimney of Rachel Catt's rental home on Jon Street, left, from neighbor Luanne Wiley's home on Corbett Lane on the right. Neighbors say the wood-burning stove inside produces choking smoke that infiltrates Wiley's home.

    About 35 feet separate the chimney of Rachel Catt’s rental home on Jon Street, left, from neighbor Luanne Wiley’s home on Corbett Lane on the right. Neighbors say the wood-burning stove inside produces choking smoke that infiltrates Wiley’s home.

    .

    This link takes you to a Side Streets column on Oct. 11, 2012,  about a dispute over a smoking chimney.

    To read about the smoking dispute between residents of Boulder Park neighborhood and the employees and patients of  Memorial Hospital, click here.

    To read more about the 2008 smoke feud at the Woodbridge Townhomes in Colorado Springs, click here.

    Follow this link to my 2006 column about the fire pit feud.

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  • RSVP FOR HOA BOSS AND BRING YOUR QUESTIONS

    Sat, March 9, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Longtime neighborhood activist Jan Doran has a few things she wants to ask the new state HOA boss at his public town hall meeting in two weeks.

    Bud Stringfellow also wants to meet Gary Kujawski, HOA Information Officer, to ask about his homeowners association at Park Vista Estates.

    Ditto for many other Side Streets readers who perked up at the news Kujawski will hold a town hall meeting at 9 a.m., Saturday, March 23, in the Penrose branch of the Pikes Peak Library District at 20 N. Cascade Ave., in downtown Colorado Springs.

    Gary Kujawski

    Gary Kujawski

    .

    Now, here’s an important detail for folks who want to attend the scheduled three-hour meeting: you must reserve one of the 100 seats available. That means sending an RSVP email to the HOA Information Office and Resource Center, cynthia.aguilar@state.co.us, or calling 303-894-2292 to reserve a seat.

    The event is free but Kujawski is limiting attendance to allow for more give-and-take between himself and the crowd.

    “One of my goals is to have a more outreach from this office,” Kujawski said. “I want to get out and speak with people, see what they are thinking, see what they would like from this office in terms of legislative changes and education efforts.”

    Larger groups make meaningful conversation difficult.

    Doran hopes to get a meaningful answer to her question about why all HOAs are treated the same under state law regardless of size.

    Doran is administrator for the Discovery neighborhood in Rockrimmon where dues are $30 a year for 329 homeowners. By comparison, some HOAs in the Broadmoor neighborhood, Peregrine and other areas charge upwards of $300 a month in dues and fees.

    Jan Doran

    Jan Doran

    .

    She said it’s unfair for the state to impose mandates for record-keeping and document disclosures, for example, and other time-consuming chores on HOAs like Discovery when there is no paid staff or professional property management.

    “They’ve lumped everybody together — condos, townhomes, patio home complexes, large single-family developments,” Doran said. “What about little HOAs like ours? One size doesn’t fit all. It’s not fair.”

    Doran would like to see Kujawski ask the General Assembly for an exemption for small, low-budget HOAs that existed prior to 1992 when lawmakers first enacted the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act, which governs HOAs. Small HOAs built after 1992 were exempt from it but not older HOAs like Discovery.

    It’s important to know that if you aren’t able to attend the March 23 town hall meeting, you aren’t completely out of luck.

    Kujawski said he intends to make regular visits to Colorado Springs and hold more town hall meetings.

    “I really want to get a good, thoughtful discussion going,” he said. “We’ll have larger groups down the road.”

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  • PIKES PEAK REGION LEADS STATE IN HOA COMPLAINTS

    Fri, January 27, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Hello, neighbor!

    Time again for one of my favorite topics: homeowners associations, or HOAs.

    The HOA Information Office and Resource Center just released a year-long study of Colorado’s HOAs. Results are not pretty.

    The HOA office fielded 3,053 inquiries, of which 478 were complaints.

    Guess what area produced the highest number of complaints.

    The Pikes Peak region, of course, with 21 percent of all complaints!

    Are we a bunch of whiners, or what?

    Not really, says Aaron Acker, the Colorado HOA Information Officer.

    “We started with the presumption we’d get a lot of ticky-tack complaints,” Acker said. “We were wrong. Most of the issues were major ones.”

    Complaints like HOA boards and managers hiding financial and governing documents.

    “Transparency is a big issue,” Acker said. “Homeowners trying to get information are getting significant blow-back from their management companies or HOA boards.”

    Aaron Acker, Colorado HOA Information Officer, spoke to a group of Pikes Peak region property managers and HOA board members on Feb. 15, 2011.

    “People want to know what’s going on with their money. And HOA boards have a legal obligation to produce records at the behest of members. But we’re seeing a lot of complaints about them not responding, producing incomplete records, fighting requests or charging very high fees for documents.”

    Access to HOA board meetings came up often in Acker’s study, as did failure to listen to homeowners — whether by property managers or HOA boards.

    “These are pretty major issues, in my estimation,” Acker said.

    Acker and his office were created by the 2010 Colorado General Assembly.

    Upon opening the office last January, Acker was told to find and register all Colorado HOAs.

     (I used that abbreviation to describe single family resident neighborhoods, condo and townhome associations, voluntary improvement associations, property owners associations.)

    So far, he has registered 8,037 asssociations, representing 838,211 homes, condos and townhome units and 2 million residents.

    Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region are grouped in the South Central category, which has 661 registered HOAs. That’s about 8.2 percent of all HOAs registered. In other words, that 8.2 percent accounted for 21 percent of all complaints!

     (Industry experts believe upwards of 25 percent of Colorado HOAs remain unregistered.)

    Acker said he hopes HOAs will use his findings as a wakeup call to reform how they interact with homeowners.

    Lawmakers are digging into the data, as well, and likely will use it to decide whether it’s time to license property managers or give Acker greater power to police HOAs. Stay tuned!

    Here is a link to a column and blog I wrote recently about the issue of licensing property managers.

    Please Friend me on Facebook and follow my Tweets on Twitter

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  • UPDATES . . . HOT UPDATES HERE!

    Wed, July 14, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    It took three years, but the furor over the Great Wall of Cascade Avenue appears to be over and it has been lowered to comply with Colorado Springs building codes!

    Disgruntled residents of homeowners associations, or HOAs, will soon have a state agency to turn to for help.

    And the battle for control of the Crystal Park HOA rages on, even after a special meeting appeared to result in a recall vote ousting six board members.

    First, the wall.

    The wall around the Old North End home of Holger and Sally Christiansen has been lowered in response to a judge's order. The city granted the couple permission to let their decorative columns, called pilasters, exceed the maximum wall height of 6 feet. The chainlink gates appear to be temporary in this July 14, 2010, photo.

    It’s been three years since a furor erupted in the Old North End Neighborhood, north of Colorado College, over Holger and Sally Christiansen‘s wall.

    In July 2007, neighbors started complaining to the neighborhood association and the city. Public meetings were held. Hearings. Eventually, the dispute led to lawsuits filed by the city and the couple.

    The Christiansens lost and were ordered to lower the wall to achieve compliance with city codes limiting it to a maximum 6 feet in height.

    They complied. But they received one favor from the city. They were allowed to leave their decorative columns, called finials. They exceed the maximum by about a foot.

    The three-year battle over the wall built by Holger and Sally Christiansen around their Old North End Neighborhood home seems to be over. The wall has been lowered, at a judge's order, to comply with city building codes which set a maximum height of 6 feet. This is a July 14, 2010, photo.

    Here’s a link to an earlier story on the wall.

    And this link will take you to prior blogs on the subject.

    The HOA Information and Resource Center will open Jan. 1, 2011, thanks to action by the Colorado General Assembly.

    Here’s a link to previous columns about the center.

    And this link will take you to blog postings.

    Lastly, Crystal Park remains in a furor over its HOA board of directors.

    After months of campaining, dissidents in the private, gated community succeeded in gathering sufficient votes to oust the board.

    They claimed 184 votes to recall the board. They needed 181 votes for a majority of the 360 members of the community above Manitou Springs.

    Not so fast, said the existing board. It deemed the meeting and vote illegal.

    I’m guessing this puppy ends up in court where only the attorneys will be the winners.

    Here’s a link to an earlier column on Crystal Park.

    Read my related blog post at this link.

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  • HAVE WE HEARD THE LAST OF THIS ANTI-HOA ZEALOT?

    Sun, January 3, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 2 comments

    Have we heard the last of Jan Jackson, Colorado’s leading activist in the fight against homeowners associations and assorted other anti-government, anti-Obama, Tea Party, “patriot resistance“ causes?

    janjacksonpage

    Jackson spent much of the decade fighting HOAs, as they are known. She has engaged in intensely personal attacks on her own HOA board and her neighbors at the B Lazy M Ranch south of Florissant in Teller County. And she carried on a statewide, even national crusade.

    For years, she was a prolific anti-HOA crusader, writing hundreds of articles and Web postings like the one below.

    jacksonpage

    Last spring, in the wake of a major legal victory in which an appellate court lifted a lower court-imposed gag order on Jackson, she disappeared.

    Turns out, Jackson had fallen ill and was hospitalized. Then, she suffered the loss of her husband, Richard Thomas, who died July 3 leaving her a widow after 27 years of marriage. The personal tragedy clearly changed her. She has quit her Web radio blog and stopped posting on state and national anti-HOA Web sites. And she has given up efforts to amend the Colorado Constitution to abolish HOAs.

    Jackson said she thinks she has done her part, warning the nation about the evils of HOAs. And she intends to remain on the sidelines of future HOA wars unless she really feels the need to get involved.

    Here is a link to a previous blog I wrote about Jackson. I’ve written several columns about Jackson over the years. Here is my March 19, 2009, column. Before that, I profiled her on Nov. 12, 2007.

    Here’s a link to Jackson’s HOA radio blog site where you can listen to past broadcasts. This takes you directly to an archived broadcast.

     Here’s Jackson’s page on ResistNet, a site for gun owners and the patriotic resistance.

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