Any construction boom is going to
result in a certain amount of contractor
negligence. Bids come in too low, timelines
get strained, corners get cut. But Colorado’s
unique soil conditions add another degree
of complexity to the situation. Much of the
state’s foundations are built on soils that
contain bentonite, an absorbent clay that
expands as it soaks up water and shrinks as
it dries. For housing foundations, that can
spell big trouble.
“If these houses and condominium
complexes aren’t built properly, that
expanding soil will put pressure on the
foundation,” Storz says. “If the foundation’s
stiff and sturdy, it can rise and fall—float—on
the soil as it expands and contracts.”
But too often an inaccurate engineering
report, or shoddy construction methods,
can lead to differential movement of the
foundation. “All of a sudden the homeowner
sees cracks running diagonally across the
walls, or support columns thrusting up,”
Storz says. “Doors suddenly refuse to close.
Drywall, tile and brickwork start to crack.”
That’s when homeowners call Benson,
Kerrane, Storz & Nelson. When it’s a big,
complicated case, says partner Jeff Kerrane,
“Those are often the ones that go to Heidi.”
TAKE THE CASE OF BLUE SKY AT VISTA RIDGE.
An upscale master-planned community
in Erie, 25 miles north of Denver, Vista
Ridge boasts a 232-acre golf course, two
swimming pools, a community center and
expansive views of the Rocky Mountains.
The project contains a mix of houses and
Residents began moving into the first
of 408 units around the end of 2004. The
defects started showing up about 2007.
“A lot of cracks were appearing in people’s
walls,” recalls Pamela Malsch, a retired
music teacher and president of the Blue
Sky homeowners association. “Doors and
windows wouldn’t open and close properly.”
The more Malsch and others
investigated, the more problems they
uncovered. Incorrectly prepared siding and
stonework led to leaks during rainstorms.
“The soil problems weren’t in every unit,”
They found that much of the damage was
Malsch recalled. “With these soil issues,
it’s sort of like a snake in the ground, a
hit-and-miss thing. The drywall cracks and
you repair it and it comes back. I’ve had a
door that doesn’t latch correctly. I’ve had
it fixed twice, and it’s recently ‘adjusted
So Malsch called in Storz, who had the
complex inspected by a team of engineers.
caused by inadequate site grading and
drainage, and defective foundation work
done on top of expansive, clay-rich soil.
It was a classic Colorado soil upthrust
situation, and the remedy would not come
cheap. The repair estimates ranged from $7
million to $50 million.
The homeowners meeting is often one of
the most challenging parts of Storz’s job.
In a condominium complex with 408 units,
every owner has a story, questions and
frustrations about shoddy workmanship.
Storz often has to explain that construction-defect lawsuits do not find resolution
overnight. They typically go on for two to four
years. “I think the fastest I’ve ever settled one
is 18 months,” Storz says.
“She calmed things down, told us what
our legal situation was and what we could
do about it,” recalls Malsch.
“Heidi brings a rare combination: She’s
a determined litigator and has a real
compassion for people, especially people
who have been wronged or taken advantage
of,” says Doug Benson, the firm’s founder.
“She has a gift for putting people at ease
and reassuring them that their cares are
In the case of the Blue Sky condos, Storz
had to coordinate between hundreds of
unit owners, 26 subcontractors, a lead
contractor and two different development
entities. At one point, the lawsuit had
to wait 12 months in order to find a date
when all parties could appear in court at
the same time.
“Heidi doesn’t just know the law,”
says Malsch, “she knows engineering,
contracting, soils and construction. She has
to know the difference between flashing
and flanges, how it fits with Colorado law
and [homeowner’s association] law, and
then be able to translate it into words that
someone like me, a music teacher, is able
After years of delays and two mediations,
a jury trial was set for February 2013; then,
according to Storz, a confidential deal was
reached in which the developer and the
builder confessed judgment to the district
court. “Now the association is involved in
a separate lawsuit to try to collect on that
judgment against the insurance company,”
Storz says. “They’ve got some small monies
in terms of settlement funds, but not enough
to start major repairs at the project.”
STORZ’S VOCATION INVOLVES HOUSE
repair but her avocation is helping families
thrive within their homes.
“I’m a person who believes in service,” she
says over coffee at Boulder’s historic Hotel
Boulderado. “It helps you think of the world
in a much more multidimensional way.”
The ethic formed early. After growing up
in Fort Collins and attending the University
of Colorado Boulder, Storz spent a few
years working with the developmentally
disabled. “We helped people move from
institutions into the larger community,”
But it was a stint in the Peace Corps
that opened her eyes to how the law
could change lives. From 1993 to 1995 she
worked for the National Organization for
the Prevention of Child Abuse in Belize
City. “I realized there that, with an issue
“There are a lot of builders we never see in court,”
Stolz says. “But there are some we see over and over:
production builders who have a reputation for creating