C.R. & R.J. from Hartford County, Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Should we have unit owners handle their own landscaping around their own condos and have unit owners submit a “Hold Harmless” agreement to protect the association from potential lawsuits?
Mister Condo replies
:C.R. and R.J., this is a question that isn’t discussed nearly enough at condo associations where unit owners are asked or even required to maintain common areas. First off, let me say I understand the reasons some owners want to maintain the areas in front of or alongside their units. They feel it is their personal space and gives them some freedom in how it is designed and maintained. I also see why the Board feels it is a good idea as it saves the community money. My personal opinion is that is tremendously bad policy for both the homeowner and the association. Unless otherwise stipulated in the condo docs, unit owners own the space on the interior of their unit. Building exteriors, parking lots, amenities, sidewalks and all of the grounds are owned in common and managed for the association by the democratically-elected Board of Directors. Board members are charged with making decisions using good business principles. That includes reducing risk. I cannot think of a riskier proposition than having uninsured homeowners responsible for maintaining association-owned assets. I am neither an attorney nor am I an insurance expert but I suspect that if you asked this same question to either professional they would suggest it is a dangerous practice and could produce an uncovered loss, regardless of “hold harmless” agreement submitted by the unit owner. Whatever savings the association is realizing with its current approach would be offset immediately if a lawsuit were filed. There is also the slew of problems that arise when Unit Owner A plants sunflowers that Unit Owner B dislikes. Unit Owner C has a bad back so doesn’t maintain his planting area properly and Unit Owner D is an investor with tenants who couldn’t care less how the area in front of their unit looks. Quite simply, it is an unreasonable model for maintaining the curb appeal of your association. Now, I know many associations who will refute this advice, saying they have let unit owners maintain their own planting areas for years. I am telling you that these are the exception and it is only a matter of time before that situation is going to fail. Budget for landscaping and planting area maintenance and let a licensed and insured company provide the service. At the end of the day, the association will look better and be better insured. All the best!