HOA governing documents and state laws typically provide that an association has a duty to maintain the common areas unless the declaration states otherwise. That duty has been amplified by additional civil tort laws and court case decisions that impose a duty on an association’s board of directors to maintain the common areas in a reasonable manner in order to prevent injury to third persons.
To fulfill its responsibilities regarding maintenance of common areas, an association’s board of directors should have policies in place that include: (i) requiring periodic routine maintenance checks of the premises; (ii) mandating responding in a reasonable time and manner to complaints about unsafe conditions; and (iii) preventing the total delegation of this responsibility to a service provider or management company. The association’s directors should also have scheduled times when they perform their own inspections to verify that the persons assigned that responsibility have been properly performing their jobs because the directors have the ultimate responsibility for maintenance of the association’s common areas. Proper upkeep of common area property requires timely maintenance of all the little things that come up in order to keep them from becoming bigger problems. Neglected maintenance will ultimately result in more costly repairs. Typical common areas that an association’s board of directors and the persons delegated with the responsibility for inspecting and maintaining should include:
Roofs and Rain Gutters:
All roofs and rain gutters should be periodically inspected for evidence of conditions requiring maintenance or repairs. Debris should be removed and broken or missing shingles or tiles repaired. Evidence of leaks should be investigated and repaired. Minor roof problems that are not timely discovered and tended to can easily become expense repairs and create costly issues with homeowners whose property is damaged from resulting leaks.
Building Exteriors:
Periodic inspections will reveal such as peeling paint, damaged or deteriorated windows and siding, overgrown landscaping, broken lighting fixtures, loose handrails and other conditions that require maintenance.
Sidewalks and Roads:
Cracks and portions of sidewalks and roads that become elevated as a result of the growth of roots from adjacent trees are a liability risk and should be properly maintained. Schedule no less than annual inspections and perform repairs as needed such as: (i) repairing cracks; (ii) filling potholes; (iii) resolving problems resulting from tree roots; (iv) maintaining signage and road markings.
Recreational Amenities:
Common area recreational amenities such as gym equipment, pools, playground equipment, tennis, and basketball courts should be inspected every few months. Inspections for safety hazards and required maintenance should be diligently performed.
Landscaping:
Regularly inspect for overgrown trees and shrubs, broken limbs, and debris that clogs gutters, drains, and sewers. Make sure all sprinkler timers are set for proper watering cycles and all sprinkler devices are properly adjusted. Repair all leaks and broken materials as discovered. Implement a plan to convert to more drought resistant landscaping to reduce excess consumption of water and electricity.
A large portion of the common area maintenance that is necessary in a common interest community is “preventative maintenance.” By performing periodic inspections and keeping on top of the little things that are discovered in these inspections, an association will prolong the useful life of the common area components and avoid unnecessary premature major expenses for repairs or replacements that could have been avoided. If the association does not have adequate funds to make repairs that are necessary in order to maintain the premises, the board should try to raise assessments to provide funds for same. These efforts should be properly documented in minutes of directors’ meetings so that, if the association members refuse to vote for an increase in assessments that would exceed the percentages permitted, the directors will have demonstrated a good faith effort to fulfill their duty of care in the maintenance of the common areas. If a health and safety issue is involved, in order to meet the required standard of care, the board may have to levy a special assessment without member approval in an emergency situation, or it may seek a court-ordered assessment.
The establishment and maintenance of a program that focuses on preventative maintenance is critical for the proper preservation of a homeowners association’s common area property. Not spending the money in the short term is short-sighted and will result in more costly expenses in the future. Additionally, a properly maintained community is a more desirable place to live, has less adversarial issues to deal with, and will typically have more demand and higher property values.