Las Vegas Sun

November 25, 2014

Currently: 57° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Senator wrote HOA bills while working for HOA

Allison Copening

Allison Copening

Sen. Allison Copening has introduced seven bills to regulate homeowners associations this session, the product of nearly 18 months working with industry experts.

During hours of hearings on her bills over six weeks, Copening, D-Las Vegas, did not disclose that she is also employed by an HOA. On Friday, after the Las Vegas Sun contacted her with questions about the bills, she disclosed that she works for a homeowners association for Del Webb, a subsidiary of one of the country’s largest builders, which has taken an active role in shaping the legislation she introduced.

Randy Watkins, executive director/vice president of Del Webb Community Management, who is Copening’s employer, was on a working group that helped develop the legislation. Copening began working for Del Webb in September as a lifestyle director for a community in Henderson.

“I needed a full-time job,” she said of the $40,000-a-year position. “They were kind enough to offer me a job.”

Copening’s job and her legislation have placed her at the center of a fight between real estate investors and collection agencies over fees those agencies charge homeowners who haven’t paid their dues.

Investors say collection agencies hired by the HOAs are gouging homebuyers — including families purchasing first homes — often for several thousand dollars to cover a debt of a few hundred.

Multiplied by the hundreds of thousands of homes in foreclosure — 276,721 houses have been issued notices of default in Nevada since 2007, according to foreclosure tracker RealtyTrac — the fees at issue in the legislation amount to huge sums.

But homeowners associations, such those under the Del Webb umbrella, argue the fees need to be high enough so collection agencies have an incentive to take on the task of collecting the debt.

•••

Nevada’s citizen Legislature makes conflicts between governance and day jobs inevitable. Lawmakers receive a salary of $8,373.60 per session, plus a per diem during the 120-day session that totals $18,480.

Still, lawmakers typically disclose relationships that could be perceived as conflicts before votes.

Copening, however, took her job while she was working on the home-owners association legislation.

With the Legislature in session, Copening works part time, on weekends, making about $600 a month, she said. She plans events at the Club at Madeira Canyon in Henderson and writes a community newsletter.

Copening disclosed her employment during a committee hearing on an unrelated bill on Feb. 15, after a citizen asked the committee if anyone was employed by an HOA board, she said.

Copening was director of public affairs for Pulte/Del Webb from 2002 to 2006, and served on the Sun City Aliante homeowners association’s board. She was elected to the Senate in 2008.

After the 2009 legislative session, she decided to gather industry insiders to develop legislation. The resulting bills, she said, were not influenced by her employment.

Watkins said her elected office and work on the legislation had nothing to do with her being hired. “Absolutely not,” he said.

He praised Copening’s work on the legislation. But homeowners associations, which regulate many quality-of-life aspects in their communities, often stir strong emotions, and Copening’s legislation has critics. The most controversial is Senate Bill 243, which would limit fees charged by collection agencies at $1,800 per home, plus some costs.

A group of investors argues the bill is falsely being sold as a cap on such costs.

Others said Copening’s employment is a conflict of interest and that she favors the industry that pays her salary.

Copening’s bills “are anti-homeowner and homeowner-unfriendly,” said Jonathan Friedrich, a Las Vegas resident and homeowners association activist. Friedrich said he has filed a complaint against Copening with the state Ethics Commission.

(It’s unclear if the commission would have jurisdiction; a state Supreme Court ruling found the commission can’t judge legislators performing a primary function. The Senate has a rule governing ethics, and a committee that could hear complaints against a senator. No such complaint has been filed.)

Stephanie Cooper-Herdman, a Las Vegas attorney who handles collections, said Copening’s involvement with the legislation while being employed by a homeowners association “is very disingenuous.”

When she learned of it, she said, “I about lost my lunch.”

During a hearing on the bill to impose caps on collection fees, Cooper-Herdman testified she charges a $1,200 flat fee per house that is going through foreclosure. She called the $1,800 cap “excessive.”

She also the bill is “not a real cap. There are too many loopholes.”

Cooper-Herdman supports another bill aimed at capping fees, Senate Bill 195. She testified in favor of the measure, proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, which would limit collections at $1,475, including costs.

But Copening said the criticism is coming from a minority of unhappy homeowners.

Her bill is based on a year of work by the Common Interest Community and Condominium Hotels Commission. She said she listened to all sides and tried to balance the interests of homeowners, collection agencies and investors.

“HOAs will go broke if a collection agency doesn’t think it will be paid at the end,” Copening said in an interview. “That being said, (collection agencies) have overcharged.”

When she introduced the bill, she said investors buying up the foreclosed homes were trying to squeeze collection agencies. “Nobody is happy with the way the collection companies conducted their business these past few years, but we need to ensure that we do not put these companies out of business resulting in more Nevadans in the unemployment line,” she said.

In February, when Copening’s first HOA bill was introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Watkins gave senators and members of the public an overview of HOAs. Studies find homeowners are overwhelmingly happy with their HOAs, he said.

Copening didn’t disclose at the time that Watkins was her boss.

On Friday, during a hearing on Halseth’s competing bill, Copening disclosed her employment. The legal branch of the Legislative Counsel Bureau signed off on her accepting the HOA job on Sept. 27, she said.

•••

Although the collapse of Nevada’s housing market resulted in an unprecedented loss of wealth for property owners, it has also been a moneymaking opportunity for investors to buy homes at deep discounts and rent or flip them.

Two such investors, Rutt Premsrirut and Rick Korbel, have formed the Concerned Homeowners Association Members Political Action Committee, or CHAMP, which is lobbying against Copening’s bill.

Collection agencies have also profited. Homeowners going through foreclosure stop paying HOA fees and their association eventually turns over that debt to a collection agency. When the home sells, the buyer is responsible to pay the back dues, plus collection fees.

Investors have shown lawmakers letters from collection agencies demanding thousands of dollars to cover dues totaling a few hundred dollars.

Chris Ferrari, a lobbyist for CHAMP, said it’s often at the last minute that a buyer, whether an investor or first-time buyer, learns of the thousands of dollars in liens placed by the association and collection agencies.

The 2009 Legislature recognized the problem and passed legislation that capped the amount HOAs could collect from a homeowner at nine months of dues.

The Legislature directed the Common Interest Communities and Condominium Hotels Commission, a regulatory body, to adopt regulations limiting fees imposed by collection agencies. That regulation, developed last year, would have set a fee cap of $1,950 per house for collection agencies.

But it never took effect. When Gov. Brian Sandoval came into office, he issued a moratorium on new regulation.

At the same time the commission was coming up with its regulation, Copening formed a working group of about 30 people from the industry, including HOA managers and board members, attorneys and collection agencies, to work on what would become her seven bills. She told the group to aim for consensus, but unanimity was not necessary. Disagreements would be noted when the bills were presented to lawmakers, she said.

They were all experts and every perspective was represented, she said. “In the homeowner association world, these were not friends. They were natural adversaries. We were going to have a good debate.”

The steering committee included Michael Buckley, an attorney at law firm Jones Vargas, with clients who are developers. Buckley is also chairman of the Common Interest Communities and Condominium Hotels Commission.

“The fact that the process was opened to a large group of people is great,” Buckley said. “Sen. Copening had the right idea to get as much input, to get as many ideas as she can through a well-thought-out process.”

Watkins sat on the group’s steering committee. He said he didn’t want Copening’s collection bill to go to the Legislature. Rather it should be passed as a regulation, which could be tweaked more often than every two years, when the Legislature meets. He was unsure about capping fees anyway.

“You let the fair market take care of it,” Watkins said. “Those associations that pay too much ... will migrate to other services. It would not make sense to stay with (a collection agency) that charges twice as much.” His reasoning: The higher the fee, the harder it would be for new buyers to close escrow.

Copening said, like her boss, she now supports pulling her bills and asking the Legislative Commission to pass a regulation setting a collections cap of $1,950, plus costs.

“This is a heated issue,” she said. “If the Legislature makes a mistake because of a lack of knowledge and hurts the HOAs, it can’t be fixed for two years.”

Copening said fellow lawmakers warned her not to get involved in legislation governing HOAs.

They said “this would bring me nothing but grief, as there are a handful of vocal anti-HOA people who dislike legislators who don’t buy into their ideas,” she wrote in an email. “Most people enjoy living in an HOA. I do, despite the occasional letter I get because of weeds in my yard!”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 22 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. Is this woman for real? "They were kind enough to hire me?" What, for her good looks or knowledge? Give Nevadans a little credit for being smarter than that! Watkins denied her being a legislator had anything to do with her hiring. Did Watkins actually say that with a straight face? It's little wonder many Nevadans hold politicians in contempt and don't trust them. This case is a clear example of self-interest trumping public interest. This woman should be indicted and, if found guilty, expelled from the legislature, fined and imprisoned. Watkins ought to be investigated as well.

  2. Conflict of interest cannot be a problem, because if there was we wouldn't have elected government employees (in the legislature i.e. teachers, firemen and others) writing, voting on budgets and calling for taxes to be raised for their benefit as part of the legislature.

    There couldn't be any conflict in government employees (in the legislature) voting to raise their own salaries or lawyers voting to make laws to benefit other themselves and lawyers.

    COULD THERE?
    Government of the government and by the Government.

  3. HOA's and management companies are wrought with corruption in Nevada. Copening says there are a handful of anti- HOA folks???? She should be removed from the Legislature immediately, put in there as a tool for them.

  4. Ms.Copening,

    The letter about weeds is not the problem. The problem is the abuse of power, and absurd collection fees. Also, the people of Nevada trust their senators to disclose their connections to the industries they are supposed to be regulating.

    Definitely, there should be an investigation into her work. Shameful.

  5. This conflict of interest and non-disclosure is certainly outrageous. I spoke against one of Senator Copening's bill SB 174 that gave free rein to Community Management Companies to withdraw funds with no signature, no trail of who took the money. This bill by Senator Copening would allow Community Management Companies to invest HOA funds outside the government docs, in anything they wanted. This bill removed the requirement of Community Mgt Cos post a bond. Then her latest, SB254 that would force a complaint made by a homeowner to an expensive process that would bypass the omboudsman as a first step. If the complaint is labelled, "frivolous or harassment," two very vague terms, the homeowner would get stuck with thousands of $$$ of lawyers fees for attorneys who defend the HOA. Nice kettle of fish. These fees then become a lien on the house, and the house gets sold thru foreclosure. WOW. This bill is now in committee last I heard. I spoke against this bill too. Time to email and call your Nevada State Senators to kill this SB 254, a harmful bill to homeowners. Don't we have enough problems with the banks right now. Senator Copening keeps putting these bills out, and did not disclose she is paid by a large management company. If this is not an ethics violation, it certainly is a conflict of interest. Marlene Rogoff, Candidate for Mayor of Las Vegas. Isn't time to elect someone who will look out for the interests of the residents? And who has the background to do so, graduate of Columbia University, Masters degree from University of Chicago, 30 years in business and real estate.

  6. Nevadans can either complain about the conflicts inherent with a citizen's legislature, or Nevadans can pay lawmakers full-time salaries and give them full-time work.

    These are the problems we get here doing everything on the cheap.

  7. Listen to the minions support another minion, she's done nothing, she's one us, she's a brainless troll. She did this for a reason, she's a typical politician sucking off one then sucking off the other, she'll suck money off whomever she can get the best deal from and get away with it. She's just another career politician lying, cheating, and telling her mindless minion troll whatever she wants and you'll believe anything she says.

  8. I lived in an HOA community and know others who still do... I have never met one person who liked their HOA in Nevada....

  9. It is time to hold elected officials accountable. This type of dishonesty justifies a respond with a recall petition to remove Allison Copening from office...Period!

    Recall, Recall, Recall!!!

  10. "VillaRep"

    The only responds to this action should be a opposing action---RECALL Allison Copening!

    It is time to take action against corrupt officials who openly flaunt their action against the voters of the State of Nevada! Allison Copening
    actions paints the district where Allison Copening resides as equally corrupt for placing her in office.

  11. ....to add on Allison Copening and the district she represent.

    The people who support Allison Copening, the people who worked hard to get her elected, are victims and supporters. The shows Allison Copening entire politicial operations as being corrupt, showing a personal and private structure of Allison Copening's character and integrity and family value.

    It is way overdue that we the Nevada residents lanuch a recall petition on corrupt officials to send a message loud and clear---that enough is enough.

    Time for real change in Nevada. Allison Copening will make a great example for our youth on what not to do as an elected official!

  12. A conflict. Also, many ranchers in Carson City backed the anti-wild horse Bills. Another conflict.

    The HOA crowd also backed the insane growth that caused this problem. A growth cap, "ring around the valley" for housing and commercial development would have minimized the bust cycle. Time for stricter caps on growth and more regulations against theses "management companies" that the HOA's hire.

  13. "Quoyn"

    Nothing wrong with voicing your concerns and frustrations. However, nothing will get done unless you use your power of the vote. You can vote a person in office, and you can vote a person out of office. This is good example of a person that should be removed from office. Use your vote, and vote to recall Allison Opening. Dell Webb is equally at fault on honesty and integrity issues. Corruption is corruption.

  14. 1) HOAs are made up of the people who live in them. If you don't want to live in an HOA don't buy a home that is in one. If you live in an HOA get involved and make your community better.

    2) Senator Copening is my Senator and not Bob Beers , nuff said.

  15. In my opinion what we have here is a gathering of scumbags.

    This goes beyond conflict of interest. It's dishonest. It's corruption. It's what is wrong with politics at every level.

    The idea that HOAs can collect from buyers the past due bills from previous tenants should be illegal. The further idea that vulture collection agencies can tack on outrageous fees that aren't regulated just to pad their profits and legally get away with it is extortion.

    I'm in the market for a home now. I'm just beginning to look and I'm glad I have learned the extent to which this theft has been sanctioned. I will not buy a home in an HOA under any circumstances. I would move first.

    That this state senator didn't disclose her conflict of interest until asked is outrageous. That she didn't take the HOA job until after she was working on the HOA legislation should be enough to get her thrown out of the senate. She is nothing more than a lobbyist using her senate job to make money.

    No one is likely to convince me that the two are not connected. Had she not been working on the legislation the job would have likely gone to someone else if filled at all. There is no doubt in my mind the HOA/collection cabal knew about her efforts and that is the only reason she was contacted and hired.

    The whole group ought to be put behind bars. HOAs need to take their chances just like anyone else, lenders & buyers. That they think they should be exempt from risk and given state sanctioned tools to rip off buyers is wrong. If they go out of business so what? What other businesses have that kind of protection? If the grocery, the pharmacy, the tire shop, the plumber, the dentist can't collect what's due from previous clients, customers and patients, are they allowed to collect from future patients and customers and sanction collection agencies to rip off future customers and patients? Of course not. If I don't pay the garage that fixed my car assess fines and fees plus interest and past due amounts from the next guy that gets his brakes fixed or a tune up? Of course not. And raising prices to cover losses is not the same thing, no need to go there.

    This is nothing but corruption top to bottom and all those involved should be run out of town... on a rail.

    Crooked politicians in league with other crooks, thieves and bums. That's what we have here and nothing more, in my opinion.

  16. Dgruber

    When you buy a home with an HOA you sign the CC&Rs , you agree to them and become part of the HOA. The residents elect the members of the board of the HOA and the HOA hires the management company that handles and helps oversee the money and legal affairs of the HOA. HOAs are a form of government as such people that don't participate throw rocks from afar.

    HOAs all over this town are forcing bank owned, abandoned properties to be repaired and maintained helping secure quality of life for those that chose to stay in their homes.

  17. I've seen more HOA failures than successes. I've always steered clear everywhere I've bought, learning from the problems others have. Too often, those who run for office and campaign for leadership are the problem. I have seen members feud with each other, sue the association and even each other. In one I'm very familiar with, one member hired an agency to spy on the members who disagreed with him and filed many frivolous suits. When he managed to be elected to a position he tried to use it to harass and harm those who didn't like the little Hitler.

    If the HOAs would confine their activities to going after the owners (banks, defaulting mortgagee, etc.) and reasonable rules and enforcement I would have a different opinion. But they almost never do. They try to force their personal opinions on the owners and regulate their very lives. I've experienced the ridiculous rules on the height of trees and plants, the type of landscaping, overzealous denial of outbuildings otherwise legal and attractive and much more. I've seen personal political issues shoved down owners throats as restrictions. When some in my previous neighborhood tried to form and HOA I knew what was coming from attending neighborhood security and sanitary district meetings. One idiot told my neighbor to take down his flag pole and keep the America Flag out of site as "wearing your patriotism on your sleeve" offended him. There were many active duty and retired Marines living in the neighborhood so we all put up identical 20 Ft poles and flew the flag. Most put permanent lights on the flags to enable them to be flown 24/7 according to Title. I personally put up not only the National Ensign but the Marine colors and my wife and I planted a new garden in the front yard with red, white and blue flowers as a signal to him to shut up or take his yankee butt back where it came from.

    HOAs are nothing more than little fiefdoms where local nit wits try to control others lives by enforcing their idea of what should be in the name of protecting property values. Urban twiterdom.

  18. There is a vocal minority anti-HOA movement taking place in Nevada. The truth of the matter is that most developments built today, and over the past ten years or more have been developed around the HOA model. Under this model homeowners who buy into a development agree by contract to adhere to requirements specified in the governing covenants of the HOA.

    Homeowners elect a Board whose members have a fiduciary duty to the HOA with an obligation to act to maintain and increase property values in the development, ensure the right of homeowners to receive the benefit of "quiet enjoyment" to the use of their property, and to enforce the terms of the governing covenants of the development, including the HOA's rules and regulations.

    There are essentially two broad categories of homeowners--those who do not want to be bothered by rules that govern their property's use. These are generally those people who are willing to tolerate semi trucks parked in their neighborhoods, weeds growing in their neighbor's front yards, or neighbors who park their cars in the street ,whether or not the cars are operational . If these conditions are not objectionable to you then you probably do not require an HOA development.

    The second type of homeowner generally wants the aesthetic surroundings of his or her neighborhood to be maintained to some quality standard . If you are this type of person, an HOA development is probably for you.

    The fact is that on a general basis, the HOA controlled development should in the long run do more to protect your property values and, is far and away the best model for maintaining the appearance of a community. HOA Boards must treat homeowners fairly and consistently in the way they perform their duties in these developments. HOA's and their Boards are strictly controlled by the Nevada Revised Statutes under NRS 116.

  19. Nonsense.

    Yes, you do have to tolerate the other homeowners freedom and some are not as tidy as you would like. That is determined as much by the buyers selection of neighborhood as anything.

    I've seen to many HOAs that don't treat the home owner with respect or even common sense. My wife and I did the landscaping for our son in San Diego in a very nice development to help them out. We are not professionals but my wife may as well be. The results were spectacular and as always the best around. We planted a Norfolk Pine in a very large pot with a sturdy moveable wheeled platform underneath to enable it to be moved from time to time. It was one of thousands of plants that were put in by the time it grew tall enough to notice from the street. Originally place beside the house to provide some nice looking foliage while the landscaping matured it was never intended to stay there. My son got a nasty letter from the HOA telling him the tree violated the height requirement for trees between homes. The supposed reason was that the height of the tree posed a hazard to the house next door. It was probably 9 or 10 feet tall including the pot. There were Bouganvillea and other showy plants almost as tall planted along the fence but they didn't care about them because they weren't considered trees. They threatened to fine him if it wasn't removed within a specified time. He took a picture of the tree showing the pot on the very nice looking platform to the HOA office and notified them that the tree wan't permanently planted that it wasn't in the ground and would be moved. They tried to make him get rid of it altogether until I visited their office, introduced myself as their landscaper and gave them my lawyers card with an invitation to continue the idiocy. They backed down as well they should have.

    A friend who lives near the coast in NC is a member of the Coast Auxiliary and a CG certified Captain has a boat in a slip he owns in the Marina within the HOA controlled area got in trouble because he was giving his kids lessons in seamanship and sailing. Their rationale was that he was operating a business in a residential area not zoned for it. The battle went on for months and got nasty until John got himself voted in as President of the HOA. He then gathered his supporters, voted in changes to the rules and sued the offenders. I've seen too many nasty little Hitlers to ever consider an HOA. I'll choose my neighborhood carefully and accept a little freedom for my neighbor to protect my own. One can take pride in their property and improve it greatly without harassing his neighbors.

  20. Time to reign in the HOA's. HOA's should not be able to place any penalty on any property without a written verified notice of the infraction and required specific actions for remedy of the infraction. Collection Interest Penalties should be reasonable and listed as a lien on the property. No need to send collection agencies and force a foreclosure driving neighborhood home prices down further making the community Less desireable. Look at setting a high dollar limit on where Legal Action will take place, and Publish it.

    HOA's should be required to sign off on any Home sale at the time the property is placed on the market. This would place all parties on notice what is requied for the HOA. Many states have rational, responsive HOA's, if corrupt Nevada cannot fix the problem its time to eliminate HOA's. Legislators not disclosing conflicts of interest should be subject to lawsuits.

  21. Dale:
    \
    What is nonsense is that you would
    junk the entire HOA model based of two examples
    of unreasonable application of rules.
    That's the same as junking all law enforcement
    because in your life you have had two bad experiences with the cops. On balance HOAs provide a substantial benefit to society. As I said in my post above, they are not for everybody. If you don't like them live somewhere else.It's your choice.

  22. We have owned several homes over the years. Sure, there are people who want to do whatever, whenever on their property. We were unlucky enough to be next door to one of these neighbors for a number of years. When we were moving, we sought out a community within an HOA. Junk cars, trash on the lawn, and unkempt homes are not allowed in an HOA. There is nothing wrong with wanting to maintain a pleasant neighborhood; our HOA does that. Please, if you do not care to abide by the CCR's of your potential HOA, do everyone a favor: do not buy a home there. Should it happen that your board of directors is not being fair to all homeowners, then vote them out; by the way, the homeowners can call an election at any time to do just that. If you cannot get a new election, go directly to the Ombudsman's office at (702) 486-4480 or Toll Free Phone (877) 829-9907.