A.B. from Hartford County, Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
About a year ago, our Board adopted a set of “Criteria for Prioritizing Landscaping Budgets.” This document wasn’t voted on by owners and it isn’t a formal amendment to the association documents. The Board is now using this “Criteria” as justification for not maintaining certain common areas, including those behind all units and a giant swath of what used to be lawn, but is now dirt and rocks, in front and on one entire side of my unit. Is it legal to adopt policies that conflict with the association’s basic obligations?
Mister Condo replies:
A.B., I am not an attorney, as you know, so I cannot offer a legal opinion in this column. However, I live in a community where the common areas are maintained by the association and I cannot imagine such a policy coming into play where I live so let me offer some friendly advice instead of legal advice.
You didn’t tell me why the Board adopted this new policy but since the word “Budget” is involved, I will infer that saving money was one of the factors that went into the decision. While there may be some short-term savings in adopting such a policy, there are long-term problems and the sourness of upsetting homeowners such as you that far outweighs the sweetness of savings.
“Maintain, Protect, and Enhance” is the primary job of the Board when it comes to the community’s common elements. Landscaping falls under that category and is a priority for any Board. Curb appeal effects resale value of all units. Failure to maintain curb appeal is a failure on the part of the community. There is most likely wording in your community’s by-laws about the responsibility of the association to maintain the landscaped areas of the association.
Of course, paying for that landscaping is a double-edged sword. If more money is needed for landscaping, that money will need to come from the community’s operating expense budget which could, in fact, drive up common fees. That may very well be the underlying problem your Board is trying to tackle by adopting a “Prioritized Landscape Budget”. Are you and your fellow residents willing to pay more in your monthly common fees so that the entire property can be properly landscaped? If not, you may have left your Board with no option but to prioritize the association’s landscaping dollars. A far better solution would be to instruct the Board to fully fund the community’s entire landscaping budget and deal with the common fee increase that may result. That way the community gets the landscaping it deserves and the Board can properly fulfill its mission to “Maintain, Protect, and Enhance” the entire community and associated common elements. Best wishes!