Groups on both sides of the legislative battle over construction defects litigation expressed optimism this weekend that bipartisan legislation introduced late Friday could be a step toward resolving a problem that has frustrated lawmakers for years.
“We are appreciative that this team has not given up on bringing about reform,” Colorado Concern President Mike Kopp, spokesman for a broad coalition of business and economic development leaders, civic groups and affordable housing advocates, told The Colorado Statesman.
“We are reviewing it over the weekend, but if the bill protects customers and opens up new construction of condos in the same way that the coalition bill does, we’ll become its loudest cheerleaders,” he added.
Representatives of groups on the other side of the argument — likewise cautioning that they were offering preliminary assessments — also said they were encouraged by the new legislation.
Kopp was giving an initial reaction to House Bill 1279, bipartisan legislation unveiled Friday night that attempts to bridge longstanding divides between builders and homeowners over how to fix state statutes the construction industry blames for nearly erasing the condominium market in Colorado in recent years.
The chief spokesman for the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance Coalition, a former Senate GOP leader, was also referring to Senate Bill 156, Republican-sponsored legislation that would require arbitration or mediation — instead of class-action lawsuits — to resolve complaints brought by condo homeowners’ associations against builders alleging construction problems.
Kopp’s coalition and the 40-member Metro Mayors Caucus have been enthusiastic supporters of that bill, which passed on a wide, bipartisan vote out of the GOP-controlled Senate earlier this month. The groups raised a hue and cry last week when House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat, sent it to the House “kill committee” for its first hearing in the chamber.
House Bill 1279 incorporates elements of House Bill 156 and Democratic-sponsored legislation, Senate Bill 157, which died in a GOP-controlled committee last week, while jettisoning provisions that legislators on opposing sides of the aisle have said are deal-breakers.
Assistant House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, House Minority Whip Lori Saine, R-Dacono, Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, and state Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, are House Bill 1279’s prime sponsors. Assistant House Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial, is a leading co-sponsor.
Across the divide, organizations representing homeowners and HOAs also greeted the new legislation with tentative thumbs up.
“We are still reviewing the bill but are optimistic,” Suzanne Leff, spokeswoman for the Community Associations Institute, an organization representing homeowners’ associations across the state, told The Statesman.
The head of Build Our Homes Right, a group of homeowners and legal advocates for HOAs, had a similar reaction.
“We’ll take the weekend to read and analyze, but I can tell you we’re hopeful!” Denver condo owner Jonathan Harris told The Statesman.
Both groups have fiercely opposed Senate Bill 156, contending that they are unwilling to give up the rights of HOAs to pursue their claims in court. (The bill preserves the right of individual homeowners to sue developers, its supporters stress.)
The new bill doesn’t specify the ways homeowners can pursue claims, but it does require a majority of the members of a condo project’s HOA to approve pursuing a complaint for defective construction against builders. It also mandates strict disclosures about the expected costs involved in filing a complaint and the likelihood that homeowners could face difficulties selling their units while a lawsuit is under way.
Garnett said late Friday that he wasn’t expecting the bill to satisfy all sides right away, in part because disagreements over the policy have been hardening over several sessions as the General Assembly has tried but failed to resolve the problem.
“I know this issue has been going on a long time, so the trenches are really deep and people are dug into what they believe is best,” he told The Statesman soon after the legislation had been introduced. “I understand that. But I’ve never known anyone to get every single word they want from the Legislature.”
“I believe we have a policy that homeowners can follow, and that developers and builders will feel comfortable breaking ground,” Garnett said, adding, “I’m excited to put the ball on the field and start to allow the Legislature to move forward.”