Last year, a condo unit owner in Andover, Massachusetts, called the town’s Department of Public Works to complain that he had to drag trash containers to the end of the street and was wondering why the trucks couldn’t come by his driveway.
The business manager for the DPW, Sandra Gerraughty, explained to the caller that his complex was supposed to be handling its own trash pickup. “He realized what happened and admitted, ‘Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything,’ before hanging up,” she recalls. This inclusion of condo communities on the trash route may be unintended, “but it has been a slow progression in Andover,” she says, adding, “The town does pickup at multi-families of six units or less; it’s specified in our contract with the vendor.”
She is in the process of sorting out a course of action. “I’m researching town records and the original plans [from when condo communities were constructed] to see if there are any conditions in a special permit… and I’m preparing a report. Then the selectmen will decide what to do,” she says.
Andover is not unique in dealing with this issue. Cities and towns throughout New England may be providing maintenance services—from recycling to snow-plowing—within condo communities because of formal agreements, or simply because of old habits. More commonly however, they are providing no services at all—but by what right?
Reasons for Withholding Don’t Hold Up
Attorney Richard Brooks, a partner in the law firm of Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks of Braintree, Massachusetts, believes that towns are penalizing condo owners if they withhold public services. Town officials, as an excuse, will complain, “We don’t have enough money,” he says, “… but condo communities use less services in general, and the town comes out way ahead [with tax revenue]. Since most condos are one or two bedroom, when averaged out, there are a lot fewer kids in the school system coming from condo units.” This is important because public education is by far the most costly service that tax dollars pay for in any New England community.