Colorado community associations are making headlines. A few weeks ago, a Pagosa Springs peace wreath made national news. Our own Mark Payne weighed in on the topic on Denver’s Channel 7. You can watch the newscast here. The homeowner association later allowed the homeowner to keep the wreath on display for the holidays.
Just this week, the family of an autistic child filed a lawsuit in federal district court against their homeowners association in Littleton, Colorado. According to news reports, the homeowners seek approval of a six-foot privacy fence that they installed to help protect their eight-year-old son. The lawsuit’s claims fall under the Fair Housing Act.
In Pagosa Springs, the homeowner and association resolved their differences without litigation–after the news story circled the globe and prompted at least two of the board members to change their home telephone numbers to unlisted numbers due to the inundation of calls. The situation in Littleton gave rise to a federal court proceeding that could get worse before it resolves.
We don’t know all of the facts and circumstances that led to the news coverage of these two associations here in Colorado. We do know that negative press for community associations tends to reinforce any less-than-favorable perception that people may have about community associations and how they serve homeowners. We recommend the following three-prong approach to help avoid seeing your community association’s name in the headlines:
Communicate. In most cases, the association and homeowner should attempt to discuss their perspectives and resolve their differences before a situation gets to the point that one party files a lawsuit or goes to the local press. Communication does not necessarily dissolve differences, but it may lead to an agreeable outcome that the individual parties could not have imagined on their own.
Designate a Spokesperson. Community associations may benefit from designating a spokesperson for communications with homeowners, legal counsel, and local media. A single voice can serve as a united voice of the association and can help minimize mixed messages that undercut formal decision-making processes. In any case, board members, or architectural committee members, should not each take it upon themselves to negotiate individually with another homeowner who is at odds with a committee or board decision.
Seek Legal Counsel. Lawyers do not always advocate for litigation. While some covenant enforcement actions warrant legal proceedings, other covenant enforcement issues may not carry facts that align sufficiently with the law to support a decision to initiate a lawsuit. Sometimes, a contentious issue does not turn upon strict legal issues but "equity." Effective attorneys can help clients identify the equitable considerations that may influence a court’s decision.
Of course, some headlines proclaim good news. If your community association recently made the news in a positive light, we would love to hear about the story. If you send us a link to the news story, we will highlight it on our website.