There is no question that properly maintained trees are an asset to a home and community. Generally speaking, the HOA or Condominium board’s primary responsibility is to maintain trees that are located in common areas; however, the association may have language in the covenants or landscape policy that adds additional responsibilities. Without proper communication and explanation, board actions in regards to trees can be misunderstood.
Keep surrounding properties in mind.
One of the most common issues occurs when one neighbor’s trees adversely affect another neighbor’s property. After a few years, the initial plant selection and location can result in tree roots damaging fences and branches overhanging property lines. Trees that mature and bear fruit or nuts can become a major problem when mowers send these projectiles into nearby cars. Variations in board responsibility and state law mean these issues must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. It’s important to understand how your state views these issues and develop an association position that reflects the law. Though, try to refrain from becoming involved in neighbor-to-neighbor issues.
Don’t forget about common areas.
Another major issue can arise when large tree roots on a resident’s property damage common-area sidewalks. Common areas such as sidewalks can become cracked, creating a hazard and potential liability for the association. Tree roots can also invade storm water, sewer lines and irrigation pipes or even crack foundations. Mature tree growth can also obscure security cameras and lighting along pathways and steps. Most of the time, these situations can be easily avoided with some preventative maintenance and scheduled inspections.
Stay ahead of tree health issues.
The effects of these trees go beyond possible property damage. There are more than 20 common tree diseases that contribute to health issues and death among most trees in the United States. Many of these tree diseases can spread from one tree to another and consequently throughout a neighborhood or city. This means diseases easily travel from a common area tree to a homeowner’s yard and vice versa.
Property owners sometimes attempt to solve tree problems internally, but boards and residents alike should proceed cautiously before cutting down a tree or pruning large limbs. Besides the obvious liability of damage and injury, local ordinances can include restrictions resulting in fines. Since most associations do not happen to have an ISA certified arborist on the board or living in the community, here are some recommendations for keeping green assets safe in common areas and on properties.
- Review the covenants for any language regarding trees and landscaping. Are there any additional association policies or resolutions? Should the association consider adopting a landscape policy?
- The board may want to consider and budget for an annual consultation by an ISA certified arborist. A certified arborist can advise on tree selection, placement, disease control, nuisance issues, trimming and removal. He or she will also be familiar with local ordinances and ecology, have established safety procedures and necessary insurance.
- Finally, the board should communicate with residents regarding tree and landscape policies. Advise residents if architectural review and approval is required for certain tree and landscape actions. Keep residents informed of tree/plant diseases and recommended remedies. Remind residents of ‘811 Call Before You Dig’ requirements. Keep residents informed of planned trimming and removal in common areas.
As an association board, you have a responsibility to protect and enhance the common areas of the community. As a resident, you want to be considerate of the impact of your trees on your neighbor, and protect the investment in trees that enhance your property’s value.