B.M. from New Haven County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
My husband and I live in a small condo complex where the outside maintenance is paid for by the association. The irrigation systems, however, are individual in that each owner pays for the water used to irrigate the area around their condo. We have one home owner who rents out his units and refuses to water the lawns whenever they are unoccupied. In the summer of 2011 the grass died out because the water was turned off at the meter. The owner has been repeatedly told, several times verbally, and most recently in writing, that the replacement of the lawn is his responsibility since he did not water the lawn during the time that his unit was vacant. His property manager told the board that the lawn would be replaced several months ago, but this hasn’t been done. The HOA can replace the lawn and charge him back for it, but the next time the unit is vacant for any length of time, we will be back in the same situation. Additionally, the unit with the dead lawn is at the front of the complex and is quite an eyesore. It detracts from the overall looks and some other owners who have placed their property up for sale have complained that it is hurting their ability to sell. Any ideas of what the association can do to help resolve this issue in both the short- and long-terms?
Mister Condo replies:
B.M., poor curb appeal isn’t helpful to anyone, including the unit owner who has let the grass die. It can decrease property values and lower interest to potential renters as well. It was poorly thought out at the condo’s inception to make individual unit owners responsible for watering the common areas around their units. It leaves too much open to interpretation. At best, it may save the association a small bit of money over installing automated irrigation systems that are paid for and maintained by the association. At worst, you are seeing just how much of a problem can be created by this system. Imagine the money that is being lost in unit sales and the potential money that will be spent on attorney’s fees suing this unit owner for allowing the grass in the common area to die. The landlord and the Board are even getting into a battle over “he said/they said” to boot. This is a “lose/lose” proposition.
Short-term, the grass needs to be replaced and watered. Long-term is another story. Your board didn’t design the system; they just inherited it during the developer transition phase of the project. That doesn’t mean they can’t fix it. I would encourage your Board to solicit bids from reputable irrigation companies that specialize in this type of work. Modern irrigation systems are affordable and reliable. They even save money in the long run because they are far more efficient than anything a homeowner with a hose could provide. Plus, it takes the manpower burden off of the unit owner. Yes, there will be an initial cost to converting to this system but, trust me, it will more than pay for itself in the long run. You can start by speaking with some of the CAI member landscaping experts you’ll find at http://www.caict.org/?page=Directory#Landscaping. These folks all know a thing or two about keeping things green at condo associations in our state just like yours. Best wishes!