Don't Let Your Homeowner's Association Leave You Out on a Limb!!!

How to Protect Yourself from Liability Before  Your Tree Crashes Through Your Neighbor's Window  (or Your Neighbor's Tree Crashes Through Your Window!) 

People choose to live in a Home Owner's Association maintained community due to it's convenience, less bills to pay (Water/Trash, landscaping, tree trimming, etc.), no wasting time looking for a good gardener and having someone else maintain the exterior of the home (Paint-Roofing). It gets expensive and time consuming to do all of this upkeep yourself so it sometimes makes sense to move into a community where you can let someone else deal with all of that stress. It's especially nice to know that if your neighbor decides to let his property look a little off, you won't have to be the one to bring it up.

Most HOA companies have a property management company that handles all of the contracting for the exterior maintenance of the entire community. It is the management company's job to make sure they hire the best landscaping company, roofers, painters, tree trimmers and the like to get the jobs done without overspending. These property management companies are very good at figuring out how much money should be set aside for annual maintenance so the dues that are charged to the HOA members is definitely more than enough to take care of the whole neighborhood. If your HOA does not have a property management company, then it is more than likely that your district might have some pretty overgrown trees and patchy looking parks. You may want to inquire with your HOA board about which property management company they are using for their services.

Even though property management companies are good at what they do, they can often become confused on the differences between landscapers and tree trimmers. Landscapers work on the ground to fix garden water lines and drip systems. They mow the grass, trim the shrubs, leaf blow, rake the gravel and clip some occasional low hanging sticks and branches off of the trees. They do all of this without touching a ladder. Tree trimmers on the other hand practically live on ladders, they climb high into the tree tops to thin out the very ends of each branch in order to ensure good health of the tree and to reduce liability of storm and fire related damage to any surrounding property. Instead of weed whackers and lawn mowers, tree trimmers have chainsaws and stump grinders. You will find it hard to meet a valid tree trimming company that brings a lawn mower with them, there would not be enough room for all of their tools and the same goes for the landscape companies, you would never see them with a stump grinder. Both professions are vital to the success of a well groomed community, but they have very different skill sets.

Many HOA's and property management companies hire lots of landscapers to do the work of the tree trimmers, especially the more recently built developments. When a new neighborhood is built, the builders usually have very small trees planted. The landscape company can easily reach all of the branches because of the size of the tree. Years go by and suddenly these trees are reaching 30'-40' heights and still the landscapers only trim what they can from the ground. This keeps walkways clear and branches out of people's faces and off of passing cars, but the accident waiting to happen is growing. Each year the up limbs of the trees get thicker and thicker, more animals and pests start to nest and the limbs closest to the center of the tree start to die off from lack of light exposure. These dead spots in the trees make for a great home of termites and bark beetles.

The limbs get heavier and before you know it, the top of the tree is like a giant sail that catches all of the wind. The landscapers forget to stop watering the larger trees that now have tap roots big enough to find water for themselves. The drip line continuously moistens the soil and the pooling water on the surface encourages the roots to stay near the top. Now most of the root system is not deep enough into the ground and a storm comes with buckets of water completely saturating the earth around the trees. Next a huge gust of wind comes and pulls the tree right up by it's roots! And this is what you get:

But if you are lucky, you only get this:

Who has to pay for any damages? Hopefully the HOA insurance company, but we all know that just means the insurance company will come out to 'reassess' your insurance needs which might just lead to higher insurance bills which in turn means more HOA fees. That is not even the worst that can happen, maybe somebody could get hurt, if that tree had just fallen a different direction.
All in all, what it comes down to is making sure that your HOA is spending the money of the right thing in order to avoid a domino effect that brings your fees up, plus we all want our neighborhood to look the best! The sure way to make sure you are getting the most for your money is by looking into how your trees get trimmed, how the landscape is maintained and to be sure that everything has it's proper maintenance schedule. Tree trimmers (Not landscapers) should be coming out 2 times per year to inspect and trim any trees that are either dangerous or are just unsightly. This way, everyone can be happy :)