HOA Problems That Happen in Winter and How Careful HOA Planning Can Help
Summer may be the most exciting time of year in your community, and it’s certainly the homeowners association’s chance to show off a little bit, reminding residents of all the amenities that make your neighborhood or condo so great. A sparkling pool, newly surfaced tennis courts, colorful flower beds, and full playground speak for themselves, after all.
But those much-loved amenities continue to need attention year-round, even when the weather turns frosty. And if the behind-the-scenes maintenance falls by the wayside, your community is suddenly staring down major repairs and a blown budget. Here are a few winter problems you’ll want to watch out for. I hope these all seem very obvious to all of you, but in my decades of experience working with association property managers and boards, I’ve seen too many annual budgets shredded due to improper winter planning to ignore this.
Burst pipes: A burst pipe can cause expensive plumbing repairs and lead to one of the biggest headaches of all: water damage. Keep your community prepared by insulating exterior pipes and faucets. Make sure any unoccupied areas in your community (attics, basements, storage rooms) are adequately heated. Drain the sprinkler system and turn off outdoor water features if you’re expecting a freeze, or double-check that your landscaping firm has done this. Have the pool professionally drained and covered at the end of the swim season.
Inadequate heat: No one wants to realize the heat is out right at the first cold snap. Have the HVAC system for the common areas inspected before winter and change filters regularly to keep it running efficiently. Your service professionals can also search the system for any dangerous leaks. While you’re at it, have shared fireplaces cleaned and inspected—there’s nothing better than a cozy fire in the community room.
Slippery surfaces: Keep enough salt around to ice walkways in the event of a freeze. Use signs to warn residents in especially dangerous areas like ramps or stairs.
Downed trees or limbs: We may not get much snow here in Georgia, but we almost always have an ice storm or two. Have an arborist inspect your community’s trees and remove dead or diseased branches. If you’re doing fall planting, you’ll also want to select trees, shrubbery, and plant life that’s a good fit for our usually hot climate. Plants that have suffered during summertime droughts are more likely to be stressed and unable to stand up to winter winds and ice.
Communicate early and often
Beyond winter maintenance, one of the best things you can do to avoid winter problems is to keep your community informed. Send out emails or put up signs reminding residents to drip their faucets when there’s a hard freeze. Set up a buddy system for when the power goes out, helping ensure your elderly or homebound neighbors are safe and warm.
Is your community financially prepared for winter?
You should also make sure that your community association is financially prepared for any of these cold-weather issues. At the next board meeting, double-check your budget, cash flow, and reserve funds as a group to make sure you can cover unexpected mechanical, plumbing, landscaping, or other winter-related problems. You’ll want to be prepared to allocate (or reallocate) money to cover potential issues.
Come spring, you’ll be ready to spruce up your walkways with a good power washing, plant new annuals, and start dreaming of refilling the pool. But in the meantime, the winter is a great chance to come closer together as a community.
And remember, when it’s time for HOA tax filing, an audit, or other financial review, we’re here to help. Because, let’s face it, winter also marks the start of tax season, and all HOAs must file annual tax returns!
-Neal Bach, CPA