With the first snow hitting the Puget Sound region just before Christmas, it’s clear that we have entered the time of year when many of us have to scrape car windows, de-ice our porch steps and walkways, spread salt on our driveways, and possibly even shovel snow just to safely traverse the areas around our homes. While these symptoms of cold winter weather bearing down on us can be a nuisance for homeowners, who is responsible for such tasks in an Association with shared common areas? For many Associations in our region, where milder weather rarely brings severe hazardous winter conditions, budgeting for winter weather care is not something that is often considered So, what is the point of budgeting for snow removal or deicer if it’s rarely needed?
We all remember the snowstorms that occurred in February 2018 that seemed to blast us for several days leaving more snow on the ground than we could clear out. What happened after that was a failure of our region’s infrastructure. Whether it was the cities around Puget Sound, the School Districts, a business, or even a homeowners’ association, there were little to no resources to plow or remove snow efficiently in an effort to get our streets into safe conditions, get our kids back into schools, and get ourselves to work safely. It took days to make that happen. The fact is that without budgeting for winter weather maintenance, we are stuck in the hazards that surround us! Failure to clear snow, de-ice, or maintain winter weather hazards can lead to slip and fall accidents, added difficulty for the elderly and/or disabled to access or traverse common areas, or even property damage to the common areas such as driveways, parking lots, and/or stairs.
One practical idea that some of our clients have instituted is to purchase winter tools, such as a snowblower, as an association expense, and then to lend it out with the appropriate waivers of liability for use by individual homeowners. This is one way to affordably deal with the ice and snow that is not a consistent issue, but can turn a pleasant winter day into a large problem. There are certainly other ways to prepare for what Mother Nature sends our way!
Maintaining the common areas is arguably the most important job of an Association. After all, failure to maintain common areas can lead to minor damage which, if left untended will eventually lead to major damage, or in a worse-case scenario, personal injury. This all equates to money, money, money. In order to avoid the cash pitfalls that can be bestowed upon an Association for failure to maintain, it’s best to consider all maintenance that is foreseeable when crafting the annual budget, including winter weather care. Do not let your Association fall victim to an insurance claim or a lawsuit for failure to clear the snow or the ice.
Brandt Law Group is here to discuss these issues further, and in more depth, with you if you have questions specific to your individual circumstances that need answering.