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'Arbitrary and capricious': Park Co. nailed for failing to identify legally unlivable homes

Posted at 3:42 PM, Nov 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-21 22:01:36-05

FAIRPLAY, Colo. -- Park County officials are facing stiff criticism, and litigation, in the wake of a Contact7 investigation in which they admit they don't even know how many homes in the county are legally unlivable in the eyes of the law.

The revelations come after a new homeowner discovered her home never received a certificate of occupancy when the sellers built the home around 2006.

"And she's like, 'What are you doing living in this house?'" Christina Mansfield said building officials told her earlier this year when she inquired about getting a building permit for small renovations. She and her husband bought the home in late 2017.

The home, situated at an elevation of roughly 11,000 feet, is the quintessential Colorado mountain dream home. But it's mired in unresolved legal problems that were never disclosed in its sale.

"This is terrible," Mansfield said.

Equally as alarming is that the county's failure to enforce longstanding code violations is common knowledge among people who've endured some of the same types of headaches Mansfield has.

"Absolutely," realtor John Angelico said in an interview with Contact7. He said Park County homeowners may not realize their homes have unresolved legal problems too until they try to sell.

"I mean, I think it's a mess," he said.

Angelico said he's developed a checklist for himself any time someone wants him to list their home. He'll visit Park County building officials to pull a property's records to see whether it has a certificate of occupancy or not. Sometimes they don't.

In Mansfield's case, the home only ever received a temporary certificate of occupancy because of numerous safety and code issues.

Mansfield discovered a box of paperwork in the garage that the sellers inadvertently left behind that contains all of the paperwork documenting the legal issues. Many of the documents appear to be originals.

With those documents, Mansfield and Contact7 discovered Park County failed to enforce its own safety and code concerns after it issued a temporary certificate of occupancy yet taxed the property as if it is a legal home.

"We shouldn't have had to have been put in this situation. This is terrible. And I don't want this to happen to anyone else," Mansfield said.

However, Park County building officials admit that it likely will happen to other people.

"I suspect there are many homes being occupied without COs -- or even TCOs in some instances," Sheila Cross, Park County's Director of Development Services, said in a letter to Contact7.  "Park County is vast.  It is not possible, or a good use of taxpayer funds, to assign resources to finding them."

Contact7 relayed the letter to Denver attorney Ian Hicks, who agreed to assist Mansfield after seeing Contact7's initial story in October. He incorporated the letter into a lawsuit he filed last week against Mansfield's realtor, the sellers, Park County, and Mansfield's lender for failing to do their due diligence in handling the real estate transaction.

"It's no wonder truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense,'" Hicks said in the complaint, quoting Mark Twain. "The circumstances giving rise to this civil action prove the fidelity of that statement."

He considers Park County's position "astonishing" because it "admits applying arbitrary and capricious standards in the exercise of one of their most critical safety functions."

On Mansfield's case specifically, he said, "The situation described is farcical and tragic. The collection of mistakes and outright recklessness required to make it into a reality were authored by each person involved in the transaction -- the sellers, [Mansfield's realtor], the title company, the mortgage lender, Park County, the home inspector, the appraiser and the listing agent for the sellers. Plaintiffs have zero fault..."

Hicks explained Mansfield's realtor was her "eyes and ears on the ground" in the sale because the realtor agreed to handle the entire transaction while Mansfield and her husband were still living in Michigan.

Among the specific problems with Mansfield's home, which Hicks described as a "money pit," are a driveway that's too steep and installed in the wrong direction without a permit, a "deck that utilizes the wrong-sized structural beams, causing it to sag like an overloaded diaper," and random pipes that "poke out of the walls for no rhyme or reason."

"It seems that they need to take charge," realtor Angelico said.  He's currently working with a seller, living in a different country, whose Park County home never received a certificate of occupancy in the early 1980s – unbeknownst to the seller until now. Angelico said the seller will have to hire structural engineers to ensure that the home could even qualify for one.

Mansfield's home has remained on the market for months despite Colorado homes selling quickly on the whole. She said prospective buyers have expressed interest but have backed out when she's disclosed the property's legal troubles.