A Stinking, Treacherous, Romance-killing Bog

It was so romantic when we first moved into the Denver area searching for what we thought might be our Shangri La.  In leaving our home in Seattle, Washington, we were leaving behind a city where nearly every home looked out over a view of lakes, rivers or the ocean.  We had lived all our lives in the Pacific Northwest, where the annual rainfall and humidity are so high that seemingly every drainage ditch was flushed daily and grew an abundance of blackberries, strawberries and raspberries.

In our first plane flight over Denver we thought we saw hundreds of little ponds and reservoirs scattered across the landscape, so we felt we had nothing to fear. Our Shangri La waited for us just below. We didn’t yet realize that the Denver area sits right on the edge of semi-arid desert.

We even found a home on a tiny water-skiing lake. Beautiful white homes surrounded our lovely gem. Neighbors were glad to meet us; we were thrilled to meet them.

But then the cold hard reality set in. Those lakes we saw from the plane were all mirages. They’d been thrown up by developers anxious to make a quick buck. The lakes weren’t stream fed. They weren’t washed by the Spring rains. No, those lakes eventually turned into fetid pools, reservoirs, divots in the ground designed to collect rainwater to be pumped up to the grass in community common areas. They smelled bad, they brewed up a noxious mix of odors, mosquitos and other biting bugs. So in Summertime, we found ourselves cowering indoors, covering ourselves with DEET and shaving cream, and anything else we thought might combat the biting bugs.

Then, came the letters from the Homeowners Association. “Our lake is essentially illegal, since it blocks rainwater and keeps it from flowing into the local drainage basin. We can try to get it permitted by the state, but it would have to be annually dredged to an appropriate depth. We plan to argue that our pond has become a federally protected wetwater area for migrating waterfowl.

“We all love our little wildlife pond. But to maintain it properly and legally is going to require an assessment from each of the surrounding homeowners. We will schedule a series of neighbood hearings, of course, but the meantime it appears that each homeowner is going to be assessed an extra $130,000 to help save our community asset.  Alternatively, we can drain and restore the area with a little wooded park, which should only cost our neighborhood HOA about $50,000 per resident. In any event, none of these costs reflect the legal expenses we will otherwise incur, which will sadly be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Can you imagine the anger at our annual meeting?  The insults hurled back and forth. The community picnics and parties we would never hold, the icy glares we got from neighbors who once smiled at each other?

We got conned. We all got conned. And it gave us our first taste of HOA community life.

Ward Lucas, author of Neighbors At War! The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association

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Ward Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist and television news anchor. He has won more than 70 national and regional awards for Excellence in Journalism, Creative Writing and community involvement. His new book, "Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association," is now available for purchase. In it, he discusses the American homeowners association movement, from its racist origins, to its transformation into a lucrative money machine for the nation's legal industry. From scams to outright violence to foreclosures and neighborhood collapses across the country, the reader will find this book enormously compelling and a necessary read for every homeowner. Knowledge is self-defense. No homeowner contemplating life in an HOA should neglect reading this book. No HOA board officer should overlook this examination of the pitfalls in HOA management. And no lawyer representing either side in an HOA dispute should gloss over what homeowners are saying or believing about the lawsuit industry.

3 thoughts on “A Stinking, Treacherous, Romance-killing Bog

  1. anonymous

    “it appears that each homeowner is going to be assessed an extra $130,000 per year to help maintain our community asset. Alternatively, we can drain and restore the area with a little woodland, which should only cost our neighborhood HOA about 50,000 a year, per resident.”


    Those projected special assessments of $50,000 per year to $130,000 per year are per household?! and not total, to be divided among all the households in the HOA?

    1. seashell55

      That was my first thought, too. $130,000 from each household, not $130,000 divided between the households?

      By why the icy glares between neighbors? It doesn’t sound like the residents were to blame, so I find it curious that they turned on each other.

  2. Judith

    Speaking as someone who has been HOA – fleeced ($100K for an alleged ‘unapproved’ flower bed border and an invisible therapeutic jacuzzi, visible only by helicopter and google earth, with an additional 80K in attorney fees), the $130K a year per household didn’t raise my eyebrows. Sadly. HOAs think that if you’re ‘rich’ enough – and silly enough – to buy into an HOA, then they should be in control of every dollar you can scrape up. So you don’t hurt yourself with all that money and freedom, of course.


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