Sunday, February 22, 2009

Landscaping and Water,
Landscaping In General


Some landscaping vendors can cost you significant money when left with all the decisions about watering your landscape.

As part of your budget and your reserves that cover landscaping, you can develop a plan to help the association save money while keeping your grounds looking their best.

New developments and high-rises have different landscaping issues. The Community Association Institute (CAI) Website has several articles written by educated advisers, to help you think about establishing and maintaining your water and irrigation expenses in your condominium.

Here's a link to the downloadable articles. You can choose the Anytime link for ways to save water, or any of the seasonal links for irrigation tips you may want to include in your plan.

Also, if your development is new, inquire about the quality of the top soil and grass seed employed by the developer to generate your new lawn. This detail will help your landscape professionals determine how best to keep your 'curb appeal' highest given the variables.

Landscape Professionals

When you hire a landscape professional, pass along an inventory of landscape assets. If you don't have one, ask that one be generated. You can include:

  • The kinds of trees, types of bushes, variety of lawn grass, descriptions of other botany
  • A log that details the watering patterns for all your irrigation zones
  • The effectiveness and efficiency of your irrigation system
  • The pruning and fertilizing recommendations for your landscape elements
  • Aeration patterns and frequency
  • Pest and disease vulnerabilities, both seasonal and locale-specific.

These fact patterns will help your board understand how the landscape professionals can best work to preserve your curb-appeal assets. Over time, and with appropriate vendor supervision, you can preserve your landscape assets through the course of its useful life.

Remember to include your landscape assets in your reserve studies and reserve contributions.

An Example of Finding Great Lawn Care

Reading this in the March 5, 2009 edition of the Wall Street Journal spoke to me, in the sense that it offers an apparent thorough exploration of all the options given the charter: Give Us Great Lawn.

It represents what I would consider Great Board Work.

Smoke Free Living

Smoker? Non-smoker?

One of the few black and white issues; either you do or you don't.

In condominiums, especially where second-hand smoke can travel among units, smoking at all within the units on the property can become problematic.

Even drifting out of the window, or into the window, where perhaps a baby sleeps, smoke and second-hand smoke can become an issue in community living.

(Confession: I am an ex-smoker. When I quit, I had all my art, drapes, furniture, wardrobe -- everything -- cleaned. I was astonished at the nicotine tar that came out of the upholstery, off the oil paintings. So, of course, I prefer a non-smoking environment.)

Leave it to the smoke-free police to give condominium boards plenty of ammunition to fight smoking:

Also, Smoke-Free Washington offers ideas about how you can implement a smoke-free condominium complex:

Read My Disclaimer, Please

Whatever action you take as a condominium owner or board member based on what you read here, you take at your own risk.

I am not an attorney, although I did want to be one when I grew up.

I currently own a condominium in Whatcom County, Washington, and serve on its board as its treasurer.

I owned a condominium in Seattle, Washington, and served on its board as its treasurer. (I also lived there as a tenant/ renter.)

I lived in a condominium in NYC recently, while there attending school. (I rented from a slum-lord landlord, whom I sued in small claims court to recover significant monies: a warning to all tenants -- Get Everything In Writing.)

In total, I've lived in condominiums for 12 years -- so far.

I'm a business-oriented person, having worked in the corporate world all of my adult life, with many years in technology.

Most of the ideas that I present here come from Community Association Institute (CAI) -sponsored events. Here is a link to their home page:

Many of the people I've met recently are charmingly 'a little Luddite' in their thinking about sharing information digitally, but for me, it's pretty normal, standard, and by far more simple than writing and printing endless pieces of paper.

This blog is a collection of my ideas, my thinking and writing it helps me concretize the results of my brain.

It isn't anything else.

Renters: The Conversation

From experience, I can tell you that living in a condominium as a renter is a second-class-citizen experience.

Condominium living as an owner and board member highlights a few of the dilemmas inherent in renting condominium units to renters.

In today's economy, sometimes it's either rent a unit or abandon it to the bank. Other hardship situations may dictate the same option.

What's a board to do?

First, because this may vary with time, understand what the Federal guideline is for owner/occupancy percentage in order to qualify for federally-backed mortgage loans. If you can't find this detail on the Internet, your association's attorney or association manager is a good source.

Second, include renters in your community. There's really no good reason to exclude them from communications, events, or civility guidelines.

Third, find a way to install effective rental guidelines for owners to follow.

Here's a to-do list for a board considering adjusting or altering existing rental guidelines in your governing documents:

  1. Read your governing documents. You may find sections in your CC&Rs, your By Laws and in your Rules and Regulations.

  2. Understand your rental caps.

  3. Poll local banks and understand their lending rates and rental cap limits.

  4. Change and adjust your rental cap, as necessary.

  5. Publish a welcome packet for (new owners and) new tenants. Include parking, garbage, pet, noise, common area use guidelines, interior maintenance guidelines, and whatever else may be particular to your property.

  6. Establish owner guidelines for renting that includes but may not be limited to:

    • Written agreement with the owner that if a tenant fails to pay rent, the the owner remains solvent enough to continue paying assessments and the mortgage, if any, on the unit
    • Written leases in which the board can include language that covers inclusion of CC&Rs, By Laws and Rules by reference (require a copy of the lease for the board)
    • Reserving the board's right in the lease to evict any tenant who is apparently 'uncontrollable' by the owner
    • Minimum lease term limits
    • Tenants being screened by a professional tenant screening service (require that a receipt of payment with no tenant name attached be delivered to the board)
    • Move-in and move-out fees, to pay for restoring the exterior assets owned by the community.
    • Tenants and their vehicles and pets being registered by the board
    • Tenants signing for copies of CC&Rs, By Laws and Rules (produced at the expense of the owner)
    • Tenants receiving a copy of named violations and fine schedules
    • Defining hardship situations that could permit the board to offer an exception to the rental cap.

  7. Formalize the results of your conversation and review them with your attorney to insure the viability of your guidelines.

  8. Present the rental package at a board meeting and include all the parameters in the minutes, so that every owner understands the guidelines for renting a condominium unit.
Practically, tenants need to understand the process by which damages are repaired, civility guidelines are enforced and so forth. 

For example, if a tenant breaks a window, the tenant needs to know that the first call is to the owner, to report the damage. Then the owner can work with the board to install a replacement window that is the same model, style and specification of all the other windows in the community. 

When excessive noise emits from a unit -- whether occupied by a tenant or an owner -- neighbors need to understand who to call, when to call and what to expect from a report of excess noise. 

Owners need to understand that they are liable for damage and for violation fines their tenants incur, and that how they collect such monies from their tenants is their own charter and cannot involve the board or the managing agent.

Construction Defect Law -- Declarants Meet Owners

Keeping up to date with the who, why, what, how and when of condominiums is no easy task. This is especially true of best practices, and the law as it applies to this form of real estate ownership.

Following the blog of a law firm that specializes in condominium law is an effective way to understand the application of the state law.

Here's a thought: construction law and condominium law are two different animals. They often meet in construction defect suits.

Here then is a link to the Barker Martin firm in Seattle. Read condominium articles of interest so you know more about how RCW 64.50 (construction defect law) and RCW 64.34 (condominium law) apply to your property.

Barker Martin Home Page

Tip: Especially if you're new to condominiums, you'll find their glossary of terms useful in communicating among owners and board members.

Reserve Study Required

A reserve study helps owners of real estate property, particularly condominiums with assets owned in common, to establish the useful life of the commonly owned assets and their replacement value.

When it comes time to replace a commonly owned asset, a well-managed condominium will have the necessary funds so that the replacement can occur, without a special assessment to pay for it.

A portion of your monthly assessments should be held in reserves for replacement of assets owned in common.

You may have a useful life listing from the developer or declarant, but a reserve study is required for any budget crafted after June 12, 2008.

Best practices dictate that the reserve study take place, and that reserve contribution funding begin as soon as possible.

This is a link to a newsletter that explains the legal requirements for a reserve study. With thanks to the Rafel Law Group in Seattle, here is an article by David Martin, "Reserve Studies in Oregon and Washington."