The Unintended Consequences of Altering Common Property

Many years ago, while living in a new town home community in Old Bridge, two of my neighbors with homes on the edge of the community decided to improve the nearby common ground with shrubs and trees. While their actions came from a good place, helping to beautify the property, it was a violation of our community’s CC&R (covenants, conditions and restrictions). One of the planting beds was elaborate, and would have required quite a bit of work to remove and take back to its original state, which was a simple lawn.

Overgrown Fall Garden

The board decided to accept the plantings as part of the community’s responsibilities. At the time, the little shrubs weren’t a big deal, and no one was complaining. But in hindsight, perhaps there was a reason why the builder cleared trees and didn’t plant shrubs. The shrubs grew out of control, became an eye sore, and blocked views for neighbors of oncoming traffic?  The small pines became huge trees, obstructing light, and completely changing the aesthetics of the corner property. It was the responsibility of the association to care for the plantings that, years later, became a problem.

In most all cases, owners cannot make changes to common property, and if they have a desire to do so, they have an obligation to obtain permission from the community’s board. Without review and approval from the board, it will ultimately become a problem for the owner and their neighbors. In my old community, it ended with unexpected consequences  – high costs to maintain the beds, and removal of large, overgrown trees. The original owner had literally moved on, and it’s now the responsibility of the community to maintain what he placed there.

Community living isn’t right for everyone. When you want to improve your property with autonomy and without permission, buying a property in a planned community or condominium complex may not be the right answer for you.

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