This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS. Sign up for Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published.
This is the beginning of an ongoing reporting project about homeowners associations in Colorado. If you have experiences with a Colorado HOA, we want to hear from you.
AURORA, Colo. — In a year when it felt like everything had gone wrong, a knock at Miesha Ross’ door one December day brought more bad news.
“There was a process server who came and knocked on my door and served me with a foreclosure notice,” Ross said, “and of course I freaked out.”
Ross had already had a string of bad luck in 2017 — a car wreck and a period of unpaid maternity leave after the birth of her third child left her struggling to pay the bills. She said she worked with most of her creditors to catch up. Getting served with a foreclosure case that day caught her by surprise.
“I’m like, ‘OK, I worked something out with the mortgage company,’ and that’s who I would think would be able to foreclose,” Ross said. Instead, the notice was from her homeowners association, the group that takes care of the upkeep of her community of townhomes.
“I had no idea that an HOA could foreclose on you.”
That knock at the door marked the start of a four-year legal fight between Ross and the Timbers Homeowners Association I Inc., which governs a complex of 394 units in Aurora, southeast of Denver.
Ross, a single mother, filed for bankruptcy twice, in 2017 and 2019, to try to catch up on her debt to the Timbers and save her home. She has since paid more than $5,600 to cover the HOA’s legal fees, an expense the association is allowed to pass on to members. She has worked to keep up on her monthly HOA dues, though a few times she was late. The association’s attorney recently filed a motion to have her bankruptcy dismissed, saying she has not made timely payments. Ross is fighting back, asking a judge to declare she has paid enough.
“I can understand if I wasn’t making any payments at all and just refused to pay,” Ross said. “I’m paying, and you’re still coming after me.”
Ross’ story illustrates the enormous power that Colorado’s more than 10,000 HOAs wield over homeowners. Many HOAs require residents to make routine payments, called assessments, to cover common expenses such as landscaping, trash pickup, water and sewer services, and amenities like neighborhood pools, clubhouses and playgrounds. In townhouse and condo communities like the Timbers, where assessments are $355 per month, those payments often also cover community insurance.