Contract for Landscape Maintenance

            For large condominium projects…sometimes called planned unit developments (PUDs), there are two phases to the common area landscaping. 

            The first phase is the installation toward the end of the building construction, and the second is the maintenance phase after the homebuyers move-in and occupy the project.

            It is sometimes better to give the contract for landscaping and maintenance to the same company.  The installer of the landscaping material can then safeguard the warranty aspects of the landscaping during the first months of the planting by controlling watering, fertilizing, etc.

            If any plants or trees die during this period, at least the builder is not caught in the middle between the original landscape contractor and a different landscape maintenance contractor. 

            If the homeowner’s association wants a cheaper landscape maintenance company later, the original ground cover and other plantings have had time to fill-in completely, thus offering the opportunity for a final landscape walkthrough and clean break from one company to another.

            A second issue to consider in the landscape maintenance contract is that the amount of work and therefore the cost, varies depending upon the length of time after the initial planting. 

            Landscape maintenance costs are different for the first month, sixth month, and twelfth month after planting, because of the different requirements for trimming, plant removal, fertilizing, weeding, disease control, and repair of irrigation.

            The builder must study the requirements for each type of plant and tree to determine the amount of work being purchased in the maintenance contract. 

            What sometimes happens in a landscape maintenance contract is that the builder is enticed by a low-ball, minimum cut-and-trim contract bid with such things as tree trimming, disease control, plant removal, and fertilizing billed as extras to the contract. 

            This type of contract can create problems for the builder and the homeowner’s association, as no ceiling-cap exists on landscape maintenance costs in this type of arrangement.

            A better method is to research the planting and maintenance requirements for each type of plant or tree in a standard gardening manual, and then formulate a maintenance contract scope of work section with the help of the landscape architect (or include this task in the landscape architect’s scope of work).

            The builder can then spell-out in detail the landscape maintenance requirements for the project, so that landscaping contractors are bidding apples-to-apples, instead of hiding certain maintenance costs as extras.

            A third consideration is the time-period that the original landscaper maintains the landscaping until it is inspected and turned over to the homeowner’s association (HOA). 

            If the builder makes this date 30 days after planting, for example, the builder economizes on the landscaping installation contract because the landscaping is covered by the HOA common area financial dues earlier.

            If the original landscaper must maintain the newly planted landscaping for 90 days, this defers the point in time at which the expense of maintaining the landscaping is passed to the HOA, therefore remaining as a construction cost to the builder.

            Issues other than costs to the builder affect this decision. 

            If the builder simply wants to save money by getting the landscaping maintenance tab picked up by the HOA as soon as possible, few people will be sophisticated to recognize this, or have the opportunity to do anything about it.  After all, the landscape installation contract is part of the construction purchasing phase, so the contract and its scope of work are negotiated long before any homebuyers or an HOA management company exist for the project.

            On the other hand, the builder must sometimes play the role of an arbitrator between the landscape installer, the landscape maintenance company, the homebuyers, and the HOA management company.

            This situation can occur when the landscape inspection walkthrough and acceptance transition is too close in time to the original planting date, especially when the landscape installation and the landscape maintenance are to be performed by two different companies.

            At this early date, ground cover has not had enough time to fill-in, it is too early to tell whether some trees or plants will die, and the original installer has no control over the proper care of the landscaping once the project is handed over to the HOA, although a warranty period could still be in effect.

            To avoid these issues, the original landscape contractor should maintain the landscaping for at least 60 to 90 days past the planting date. 

            The original contractor can then control the survival of the plants and trees, and this length of time allows the planting to fill-in so that a definitive transition can occur should another landscaping company be selected by the HOA for landscape maintenance.

From Lessons-Learned for Builders, Architects, and Interior Designers in Housing Construction, Book 6.

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