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Q&A: Landscaping Leaves a Lot to be Desired

Q. I pay HOA fees for landscaping. Not all areas of the development are the same—some streets just have ornamental trees and a minimal amount of leaves falling. My block is swamped with leaves on the ground that begin falling in September, but I have not been successful in getting management to send the landscapers to keep walkways clear. Fall is coming and I’d like to get ahead of the game this year. 

How do I get copies of the contract between the HOA and the landscapers? How can I document or build a case about my problem? Are there any laws that I can refer to if I want to see bids, details of the work provided, or a schedule of days the landscapers should be working, and also the work that they did/should do? I would like to find a way to persuade management to provide more attention to certain areas when necessary.

                                  —Feeling Ignored

A. “Your concerns about landscaping issues and maintenance are well-justified – properly maintained landscaping adds to the aesthetic value of your community and may also contribute to increased property values,” says Kimberly A. Bielan, principal at Moriarty, Troyer & Malloy in Braintree, Massachusetts.

“Assuming you live in a condominium association, unit owners have access to the books and records concerning the association’s contract with the landscaping company. Pursuant to the Condominium Act, the organization of unit owners must maintain books and records, including ‘records of all receipts and expenditures, invoices and vouchers authorizing payments’ and ‘contracts for work to be performed for or services to be provided to the organization of unit owners … .’ G.L. c. 183A, § 10(c)(4).  If a review of the landscaping contract raises concerns about the scope of the services provided, bring those deficiencies to the attention of the association and manager in writing in advance of the fall season.  If a review of the contract reveals that the landscaping company should be providing, but is failing to, the services the association is paying for, document the ‘on the ground’ conditions with photographs.    

“Rather than ‘building a case’ about the landscaping problem, think of your role as a concerned unit owner who is working cooperatively with the association to try to get the benefit of the association’s (and your) bargain relative to the landscaping services being performed at the condominium. The association’s board is comprised of volunteer unit owners who are concerned about the community just like you. Despite best efforts, volunteers and managers simply may be unable to keep fully apprised of all issues that may be affecting the community at any given time.  It is likely that board members will be appreciative of your efforts to ensure that the services the association and its unit owners are paying for are being rendered effectively and in accordance with contractual obligations. Indeed, to the extent walkways are not being cleared of leaves, the association may be exposed to greater liability in the event of an accident and a failure to properly maintain the common areas and facilities if they had reason to know of a deficiency (of which you’ve now informed them).  

“If your association lends itself to it, suggest forming a gardening or landscaping committee so that you can be involved in the property manager’s oversight of the community’s landscaping services and can raise concerns as to any issues as they arise.  A landscaping committee can address present maintenance concerns and also plan for long-term landscaping projects, such as maintaining the different variations of trees throughout the property.  It may also prove helpful to walk the community with the property manager and landscaping company to point out areas of critical concern.  The association’s board members will likely welcome the opportunity to have another unit owner involved and to check an item off their ‘to do’ lists.  Alternatively, you could run for a board seat, so that you have greater involvement in shaping the affairs of the condominium generally and to ensure your community remains a pleasant place to live.”

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