If you live in a neighborhood that is part of a Homeowner’s Association, managing trees in common areas is the responsibility of the HOA. Well-cared-for trees are valuable and important assets to your community. Trees improve the overall quality of life and enjoyment of the residents.
Homeowner associations often have trees that were planted by the developer and residents. In some cases, a community may have natural woodland areas. However they got there, trees come with the need for responsible stewardship—whether Mother Nature planted the trees or not.
Common Tree Problems
Here are some of the tree problems you may find in your residential community that need to be managed by the homeowner’s association.
- Limbs or branches of a tree should not be touching your house or causing difficulty for those entering or exiting properties. Branches rubbing against structures can result in damage to both the tree and the structure.
- Tree branches should not scrape the tops of cars. Proper clearance over streets and parking should be maintained. Keep in mind that moisture after a rain can make branches sag down more than when they’re dry.
- Sidewalks should be clear of any branches that might cause injury to the residents.
- Broken and dangling limbs can cause injury if they fall on a resident or private property.
- A large amount of deadwood may signal a serious problem with the health of that tree.
- Trees that lean should be inspected by an arborist on a regular basis.
- Dead trees should be brought down to a safe height or removed entirely if they pose a risk to nearby structures.
Tree Care and Removal
Tree care, which sometimes includes the removal of trees, is important for the safety of residents and their properties. Trees are stronger and healthier when deadwood and weakly attached branches are removed. Thinning of the crown allows greater air movement and light penetration. Storms and strong winds can be very destructive to trees with heavy leaf cover and thick crowns. Severe weather can cause a healthy tree with a fully leafed-out crown to uproot and fall over. Weak or dead branches can be lethal when falling to the ground. When homeowner’s associations do not manage trees on a regular basis, small problems can become larger. Early detection and treatment is often much more cost effective than ignoring the issue until it’s a big problem.
Overplanting Tree Species
Communities often discover that tree plantings done years prior now include problem trees. For example, the Bradford pear has been heavily planted in many communities nationwide and is now considered an invasive species. Over the years, the structural problems with that tree have become a huge liability for a large number of those communities. In communities that relied heavily on the Bradford pear, storms have damaged the trees so badly that a large asset has been lost. Hence another concern for homeowner associations: be careful not to overplant any particular species.
Budgeting for Tree Care
Homeowner’s Associations need to budget for tree care. Liability is a big issue when we live in communities with trees. We live in a litigious society and have insurance to cover our houses, cars, health, and other financial burdens. A proactive tree-care program can reduce insurance claims against the HOA. You are also less likely to be considered liable when damage occurs if you can demonstrate that you have been proactive. If HOAs have a well-documented tree-maintenance history, insurance companies and courts are more likely to consider these occurrences “acts of God,” for which you are not liable. A long-term tree-care program with a proactive focus helps keep trees in the best condition possible and saves money in the long run.
Resident Tree Monitoring
If your HOA has a managing agent or tree/landscape committee, homeowners should report any concerns to them. The HOA has a responsibility to record concerns and requests for tree work. If an arborist is walking the community, he or she should have those concerns on a list so they can be evaluated.
Some communities are large and may benefit from more than one resident monitoring the trees. It might be helpful to divide the community into areas and then ask committee members to look at the trees in their area on a regular basis, especially after bad weather. Homeowners do not always notice when a tree has been damaged and often don’t report it to the managing agent if they do see a problem. However, a committee member responsible for a particular area can assess those trees and report any damage.
Avoiding Tree Pruning Liability
Homeowners should not attempt to work on any common-ground tree. Not only is there a risk the work will be done poorly, but the liability issue is significant. Homeowners should understand what can or cannot be done on the common areas. In cases where there are limited funds to do the tree work, the HOA might agree to let the homeowner pay for the service as long as it is performed by a certified arborist.
Healthy trees are wonderful assets. When properly cared for, they add tremendous beauty and value to your community.