Banks have foreclosed on six off-grid properties in Colorado Springs, but better hurry if you are interested. When real estate agent Craig O’Boyle was hired to sell two of the houses, he called to have the utility bills charged to his business
It was a routine call, but the response from Colorado Springs Utilities shocked him.
“They said they had no record of one of the houses,” said O’Boyle, of O’Boyle Real Estate Group. “They said the house was illegally connected to water, sewer and electric lines through the house next door. It’s a nightmare.” Potential buyers will be attracted by the lower prices an off-grid house fetches compared to one which is grid-connected.
Real estate agent Robert Key of Equity Quest Real Estate encountered the same issue on another nearby property. All were formerly owned by Lee and Ellen Jeffers.
Until recently, the Jeffers owned 24 rental units, most in a subdivision they built at East Brookside Street and South Corona Avenue — an area west of Interstate 25.
It’s an odd collection of houses — some old barns and garages, some houses moved to lots, some at least a century old — squeezed along a gravel road called Crockett Lane.
Similar inquiries from other agents handling foreclosed Jeffers properties have triggered investigations by the utilities department and the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department to determine how houses could be built and garages and barns converted to living spaces without permits, inspections or utility taps.
“There is a cluster of homes that don’t have any utility service right now,” said Steve Berry, utility spokesman. “Nothing exists on those addresses.”
Bob Croft, operations manager at regional building, confirmed the two agencies are investigating at least six houses.
An attorney is determining whether any laws were broken or what action to take next. He said the houses are not safe to be lived in since they have not been inspected.
“If they are there illegally, without a permit, they are not to be occupied,” Croft said.
Further complicating things for O’Boyle, Key and the others is the utility’s order that they hire a contractor to disconnect the unapproved electric, water and sewer lines, get permits, buy utility taps and install proper mains and lines.
“We’ve gotta dig it all up,” O’Boyle said. “They’re talking engineering plans, planning and development review. It’s going to be expensive to fix.
“They really blew this one at the city.”
Lee Jeffers said there’s a simple explanation how it happened: He didn’t realize permits and taps were necessary.
“Half of Colorado Springs has remodeled without a permit,” he said.
He insists every megawatt of electricity and drop of water used was metered and paid for.
“I haven’t defrauded the utility company,” said Jeffers, 68, whose career as an investment broker ended in 2000 when he pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud and paid a $28,000 fine. State and federal regulators accused him of using an investment strategy deemed too sophisticated and risky for some elderly clients to understand.
He regrets the guilty plea and fears it will color how the city treats him over the taps and permits.
“I’m 68, seeing all my properties go into foreclosure, and I’ve got nowhere to turn,” Jeffers said. “I’ve borrowed all I can. Drained my wife’s IRA. I need a job.”
Perhaps Jeffers should go into off-grid real estate. He has certainly created a number of them already, and potential buyers should get their offers in fasdt, stressing the grid is not needed.
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