‘Tis the season for limited daylight, falling snow, and cold temperatures here in Colorado!  It is the time of year homeowner associations commonly face seasonal challenges such as frozen pipes, slip and fall accidents, and disputes with snow removal vendors.  These issues can serve to take the joy out of the holiday season for all.

Below are five tips to help your association prepare for winter, reduce liability, and start the community off on the right foot in the new year.

  1. Inspect and Winterize

Inspecting and winterizing is critical for the Association to prevent property damage.  Some proactive steps the Association can take include:

  • Cleaning and inspecting roofs, gutters, downspouts, and drains can help to prevent ice buildup, ice-damming, and the infiltration of water into structures.
  • Protect pipes from freezing by maintaining indoor temperatures of at least 60 degrees, allowing faucets to drip, keeping cabinets open during cold snaps, insulating pipes prone to freezing, and disconnecting and draining hoses.
  • Inspect attics to ensure appropriate insulation is present and intact.
  • Confirm exterior building penetrations, siding, windows, doors, and joints are appropriately caulked and sealed.
  • Ensure pools and irrigation systems are drained, blown out, and winterized.
  • Have community HVAC systems and fire systems cleaned and inspected to ensure proper function
  1. Snow Removal Contracts

The Association should have an agreement in place with a qualified snow removal company.  The following are key contract provisions to include as part of the contract with the Association’s vendor:

  • The term of the agreement including the commencement date and termination date.
  • Clear identification of the areas to be plowed/shoveled. Including a map as part of the agreement may be helpful.  The map can also designate locations in the community where snow can be piled by the vendor in large storms.
  • The depth of snow that will trigger the vendor’s services and the timing regarding when services will be completed after the storm concludes. Make sure the services comply with applicable law/ordinance as to when snow must be cleared.
  • Insurance requirements for the vendor and a requirement that the Association be named as an additional insured under the vendor’s insurance policy.
  • Contact information where vendor representatives can be reached outside of normal business hours.
  • Requirements that the vendor keep a log of the storm and services provided.
  • Information regarding the agreed upon types of snow melt, sand, salt, or other chemicals to be used within the community. Also, will snow melt be made available for use by residents?
  • Special instructions for any problem areas such as shaded areas or other property within the community historically prone to ice build-up or other known hazardous conditions. The placement of warning signs may be appropriate in such areas.
  • Standard service rates and any increases or variable charges that depend upon the amount of snow or special equipment that may be needed in connection with large storms.
  • Indemnification provisions to protect the Association from negligence. Changes in law have restricted the permissible types of indemnification protections that may be included in a snow removal contract, so have the Association’s attorney prepare or review the agreement.
  • Consult with the Association’s insurance provider to confirm appropriate coverage for both property damage and liability coverage (see Slip and Fall discussion below).
  1. Review Your Documents

In preparation for winter, the community manager and Board should review the Association’s governing documents with respect to the following issues:

  • Maintenance obligations. Different types of communities have different obligations with respect to responsibility for snow removal and building maintenance.  The differences are significant depending upon whether the community is comprised of condominiums, townhomes, or single family detached residences.  Make sure the Board understands its maintenance obligations under the covenants and other governing documents.
  • Consult with the Association’s insurance provider.  Make sure the Association has adequate liability and property coverage.  Slip and falls, water damage from frozen pipes, and property damage caused by snow removal services are common.  Appropriate insurance coverage is critical to protect the Association and its homeowners.
  • Review the Association’s Rules and Regulations as they relate to winter issues.  Do the parking rules need to be updated to allow for snow removal access and the placement of cleared snow?  Do the rules require condominium units to be kept at a 60-degree minimum temperature?
  1. Slip and Falls

If your Association is made aware that someone has fallen within the community, you should:

  • Notify the Association’s insurance carrier in writing even if there appears to be no injury.
  • Document the specifics of the incident such as the: (i) name and address of the person who fell; (ii) date and time of the incident; (iii) location; (iv) names and addresses of witnesses; (v) extent of known injuries; (vi) details of how the fall occurred; (vii) specific weather conditions; (viii) lighting; (ix) date and time of the most recent snow fall; (x) amount of snow; and (xi) last time the area was shoveled or plowed.
  • Photograph the location of the fall and the injured party, if possible.
  • Obtain a snow removal log from your contractor.
  • Consult with the Association’s attorney.
  1. Community Communication

Communications from the Association to residents and owners can help to build community spirit, increase safety, and prevent problems.  Good communication topics may include:

  • Updates regarding the arrival of expected upcoming extreme storms and temperatures.
  • Education about Association and individual owner responsibility for snow removal.
  • Information concerning the timing of when vendors are expected to be active within the community.
  • Contact information, including phone numbers and email addresses, where residents can report issues and hazards that may develop.
  • Reminders for owners to prepare for cold temperatures such as keeping their units heated while away for the holidays and reminders to stock supplies such as batteries, candles, ice melt, generator fuel, blankets, etc.
  • Periodic community newsletters in advance of the winter season containing reminders for owners to have their chimneys and HVAC systems cleaned and checked.

We have a couple more months of winter ahead, so plan accordingly.  Spring is right around the corner!  If you have questions or would like to discuss these winter tips in greater detail and/or services offered by Altitude Community law, please contact us at 303.432.9999 or at [email protected].

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