December 30th was an unseasonably warm day in the Denver metro area of Colorado.  In fact, the area had been experiencing an unprecedented warm winter, with nearly no measurable snow for the season.  This, paired with the high winds that moved through the area on that particular day helped to create a particularly volatile situation in the cities of Louisville and Superior, just 20 miles outside of the state’s capitol.  What started as a small fire in a residential property quickly spread into what would become the most destructive fire in Colorado state history.

The Marshal fire burned more than 6,000 acres in less than 24 hours, destroying more than 1,000 structures, many of those being homes within densely populated subdivisions.  One of those neighborhoods was the Coal Creek Ranch subdivision in Louisville, where nearly a third of the residents lost their homes.  In the weeks following this tragedy, those residents were given even more grim news, adding insult to injury, one might say.  While the fire had completely altered their lives, it had not changed the expenses of the community, so the fees charged to community members would remain the same.  Unfortunately, this means that residents that lost their homes will still be charged the monthly fee that they were required to pay when their homes still stood (minus the fee for trash pick-up).  They will be required to pay these fees until they sell their property to a new owner, something that is not likely to happen anytime soon.  One could argue, and many of those affected did, that paying the fees associated with living within a community, when you were now completely unable to live there, seemed a bit off.  

When a local news station reached out to the association president, as well as the legal team that represents the association, they were told that, because of the need to adhere to the bylaws of the community, they could not deviate from what had previously been established and agreed upon and the unfortunate residents that lost their homes must continue to pay their association dues.  The association expressed that, while they felt terrible, their hands were tied.  They added that they had begun to raise funds for the community members that had been affected, raising a reported 12,000 dollars in just a few days.  However, to some of those who lost their homes in this tragedy, a fundraiser simply does not feel like the appropriate response  and a petition has been circulating to remove board members, including the current board president.  

Should this be a cautionary tale to other associations?  No one expects that they will lose their home, their belongings and their memories in such an unexpected and traumatic way, and certainly no one wants to add to the pain and suffering of those who are afflicted after the fact.  That being said, unthinkable tragedies do happen and, given this certainly, we might all benefit from taking a look at the policies that are currently in place, as well as what may be lacking.    Perhaps, before the unthinkable happens, contingency plans should be considered and verbage could be included in the bylaws of the community that protect residents should they lose their home through no fault of their own.  A “disaster clause” of sorts?

If there can be anything positive to come out of these tragic events, perhaps we can find a way to lessen the pain and financial burden of those who will experience a similar situation in the future.