As the northeast recovers from a messy snowstorm this week, HOA homeowners and board members alike are faced with clearing snow and ice from driveways, sidewalks, parking lots and roadways. Winter can cause transportation and safety issues in northern regions of the country, and the most successful HOA snow removal plans are in place before the snow hits. Local governments are typically responsible for snow removal on public roads, but what about HOA common areas? If you haven’t reviewed your snow policy recently, consider a reevaluation to ensure a cohesive and effective snow removal plan.

Location, Location, Location

Consider the typical snowfall in your area. Do you get little to no snow? Are you in a region where you are frequently faced with freezing rain or a wintery mix? Or are you in a region that gets regular snowfall, amounting to inches or even feet? Knowing the type of snow or mix that you are getting makes a difference to your snow removal strategy. In order to maximize the benefit of your investment, you will want to pick the company and plan that best suits your needs. It is unwise to spend too much on extra coverage that you won’t need, but a last minute call to a snow removal call can itself be costly. If you rely on HOA management employees or volunteers to take care of the snow removal, be sure that duties are delegated and communicated properly. Be prepared with the proper equipment to get the job done.

Explore Snow Removal Plans

You may want to purchase a plan that covers all of the snowfall during the winter season; or you may want to pay for removal one snowfall at a time. The only way to know which option is best for you is to do the research. HOA management should do a detailed search of the companies that offer snow removal and their rates or plan packages. HOA boards should be sure this research is thorough and accurate before signing a contract.

The actual arrangement between the HOA and the snow removal company is also important. Your management company should work out all the details before the snow arrives, including:
• How much snow is enough to trigger a plow
• What areas should be plowed
• Where the removal company should pile the snow should
• What areas need to be manually shoveled
• What areas need to be salted
• When and how often these processes should be repeated

Here are some additional considerations when hiring a snow removal company.

Experience and Reputation

Take the time to explore which companies have positive reviews in the area—and which companies are less than trustworthy. Look outside your personal network and get feedback from similarly situated HOAs.

Contract Review

Your legal team or attorney should review the snow removal contract—or any contract for that matter—before signing. The attorney should ensure that your contract has starting and ending dates, details to the questions posed above, requirements for insurance policy coverage, record keeping requirements, emergency procedures, and liability of property damage.

Liability

As mentioned, snow removal can create issues of legal liability. Personal injury lawsuits happen all too easily. In fact, the National Safety Council notes that snow shoveling causes thousands of injuries and up to 100 deaths a year. The potential for injury increases the need for legal counsel. Your HOA board should speak with your legal team to address any potential issues.

Homeowners’ Responsibilities

Most HOAs contract snow removal for common areas: streets, parking lots, sidewalks, etc. Other areas are typically left for the homeowner to handle. To avoid potential complaints, your governing documents should state the snow removal process specifically. Further, communications with homeowners should remind them of what areas are covered under the policy and what areas are the homeowners’ responsibility. For example, how long do homeowners have to remove snow from sidewalks? Are they forbid from shoveling snow into the streets? Answering these questions up front can solve many headaches down the road.

It is important that HOA management communicate early and often with homeowners. Include reminders in regular communications like newsletters and email blasts. In addition, consider an emergency messaging system. A text message alert regarding the timing of snow removal can keep residents from questioning and calling management. This system is also great for weather emergencies and safety or criminal concerns.

Make It a Community Effort

As many grocery store workers can tell you, snow can get a community frazzled. But the more an HOA works together, the easier the experience will be. As a neighbor, consider helping elderly homeowners or those with disabilities. As a manager or board member, identify which homeowners may be in need during snow emergencies and consider checking in on them when travel becomes more difficult. Keep your snow removal policies accessible on your website and provide links in email communications. Together, you can minimize the challenges of a snow day.