State Rep. Brianna Titone, an Arvada Democrat, has long argued that the state needs to do more to keep HOA disputes out of court, pointing out that, in these cases, attorneys always win.
“Whatever dispute happens, the HOA attorneys are the ones that are always reaping the benefit,” Titone said. "They get paid by both parties, basically.”
Alcock and two of the other six law firms, Tobey & Johnson and Vial Fotheringham, did not respond to questions for this story.
Representatives from the other four law firms told Rocky Mountain PBS and ProPublica that foreclosure is typically “a remedy of last resort” and represents just a fraction of debt-related matters that they handle on behalf of HOAs.
Jeffrey B. Smith of Altitude Community Law said his firm, which represents about 3,000 HOAs, doesn’t “push associations towards foreclosures except in those few cases where other options have proved futile.”
Hal Kyles of Orten Cavanagh Holmes & Hunt said profit motives do not play a part in how his firm handles HOA-related cases. “Issues of monetary return are no factor in recommendations to foreclose and would be a violation of my ethical obligation to act in the best interests of my client,” he said.
Meanwhile, Paymah, who has lived in Colorado since being drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2005, decided to do what other homeowners facing foreclosure rarely do: fight the HOA.
Paymah’s legal strategy centered on challenging attorney fees that he considered exorbitant and unjustifiable. “I felt bamboozled,” Paymah said, noting how quickly his debt grew. “I felt like somebody was trying to take advantage of me.”
When the case went to trial in August, the HOA defended its action, casting the whole dispute as being of Paymah’s own making.
“The facts here are absolutely undisputed that Mr. Paymah was delinquent in payment of assessments,” said Alcock, who presented the mounds of correspondence that the HOA’s management company had sent to Paymah notifying him of his delinquencies.
Alcock also noted that, if a series of unpaid dues like Paymah’s were allowed to go uncollected, it could ultimately lead to serious harm to the neighborhood.
“There are many, many … examples where associations have large delinquencies, don’t collect assessments, and aren’t able to properly take care of the community and ensure safety of the residents,” Alcock said.
In his testimony, Paymah, whose company bought the Rock Ridge condo in 2018 as an investment and has since rented it out, admitted that he had not been as attentive to property-related matters as he should have been for several years, as he dealt with a custody dispute over his son.
But Paymah said he had already caught up on his unpaid dues and penalties before trial, paying about $3,600. What was keeping the case from being resolved, he said, was attorney fees.
In the end, Judge Paul King ruled in favor of Paymah’s main argument, agreeing that the court should review the reasonableness of attorney fees, which ballooned to about $50,000 after the trial concluded.
But it was a pyrrhic victory for Paymah. After reviewing attorney fees and legal costs, King ordered Paymah to pay $25,774 to avoid foreclosure — far more than he would have paid had he never mounted a legal challenge in the first place.
Paymah said homeowners like him face a “lose-lose situation” in a dispute with their HOA. “It’s almost like you have to lay down … and just let them do whatever they want. I can’t really advise anybody to do that,” he said. “And then your latter alternative is what? Get a lawyer and spend a bunch of money.”
When Nicole Plybon moved to Rock Ridge in 2004, the community was brand new. Then came what she called a “slow dilapidation.”
“Shingles were blowing off the roofs, the stone was falling down, the sidewalks were all cracked up, the gutters are pretty much smashed,” Plybon said. “Just a lot of problems starting to accumulate on one another.”
This common infrastructure is the responsibility of the HOA, and its upkeep is funded by the monthly dues paid by every owner in the community.
When the pandemic hit in 2020 and residents were staying home more, they began asking questions to the management company, which had run the community for more than 13 years, and to the HOA board, which they said rarely held meetings.
A group of residents decided to organize and eventually voted out the board and brought in a new group, which included Plybon. The new board quickly replaced its management company and started taking on projects to improve the community.
Soon Plybon and other board members realized that their predecessors hadn’t built up enough savings to cover future maintenance needs. This led to their decision to raise the community’s monthly dues by 48% last year, making payments that used to be as little as $178 to jump to $264.
“Unfortunately, we had to be the bad guys on the board,” Plybon said. “We had to start thinking about a five-, 10-, 15-year plan, where that was never done in the past.”