This month marks the two-year anniversary of Colorado's most devastating wildfire, and many Marshall Fire survivors are still struggling. Only about 250 families -- of more than 1,000 impacted -- are back home. Others are battling everyone from insurance companies and mortgage servicers to homeowner associations.
The magnitude of the problem is highlighted in a new far-reaching package of legislation by state Rep. Kyle Brown. Brown, along with Gov. Jared Polis, Rep. Joe Neguse, who represents Colorado's 2nd Congressional District, and other state and local elected leaders attended a Marshall Fire forum hosted last spring by CBS News Colorado.
Many of the issues addressed in the bills were raised at the forum, including access to insurance money. When a homeowner has a mortgage, insurance proceeds go to mortgage servicers that sit on the money -- even make interest off it -- until they decide enough progress has been made on a rebuild. While the companies set thresholds of 20, 30, or 50%, for example, homeowners say they make it difficult to meet the threshold by not defining what qualifies as 20% complete. Many homeowners are left footing the bill for their rebuild out-of-pocket, while the companies hold their funding.
"They're withdrawing money from their retirement accounts or their kids' college funds," Brown says. He plans to introduce a bill that would require mortgage servicers to set clear thresholds for accessing funds, give homeowners the interest made on their money, and not keep more money than a homeowner owes on their mortgage.
Brown is also bringing forward legislation that would give homeowners more control over how to rebuild.
Some HOAs, he says, are preventing homeowners from fire-hardening, "People can put in a non-combustible fence or siding that is hardened or can get a roof that is fire-hardened. So these are just some basic, I think, rights that property owners and homeowners need to protect themselves and really their communities from future catastrophic events like this."
Brown also plans to prevent landlords from profiteering off catastrophic events by limiting increases in rent after a disaster to 10%. Many fire survivors have seen rent double even triple. One homeowner in Louisville says she's renting a small house for $7,500.
"They've lost everything, and now, they're being price gouged," Brown says.
While insurers typically cover rent, he says, they often make up the money in higher premiums, "So we're all paying for this, and it's about time that we tried to do something about it."
Brown and state Rep. Judy Amabile are also doing something about the hundreds of homes that were damaged by smoke, soot and ash in the fire. Right now, even experts don't agree on when a house is "clean and safe" after a wildfire like Marshall, so insurers don't always cover remediation. Brown and Amabile are introducing a bill that would create a task force to come up with standards.
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