Collecting in a Multi-Family Way

April 1, 2000

13 Min Read
Collecting in a Multi-Family Way

Christina DiMartino

Visualize a 500-unit apartment complex with approximately 1,500 tenants. When this multi-family unit's waste is consolidated at one collection point, haulers know it can be a profitable.

With all their trash in one basket, so to speak, community associations in the United States number more than 205,000, including condominiums, homeowners, townhomes, planned communities and apartment rentals. Often, community residents receive trash collection and other services for free, with the bill charged to their associations, according to Donna Reichle, vice president of communications for the Community Associations Institute (CAI), Alexandria, Va.

The nonprofit CAI was created in 1973 to educate and represent community associations nationwide, including condominium and homeowner associations, and cooperatives. According to Reichle, the availability of community services and private haulers in different locales dictates how associations will handle waste collection.

Haulers Contracted Privately "All our associations privately contract for trash collection," says Margey Meyer, president of Prime Site Inc., Houston, which manages almost 6,000 condominiums and townhome units in 33 communities. "The most important quality we look for is dependability. We want pickups done between 6 and 10 in the morning."

While Prime Site does not track the amount of waste generated by the associations it manages, Meyers says it's substantial. Consequently, price, thoroughness (not leaving debris on the streets) and a one-year contract also play a crucial role in which hauler Prime selects. Undesirable hauler qualities include outdated trucks, inadequate insurance coverage and poor condition and appearance of dumpsters.

Kerry Leavitt, assistant vice president of client relations for Action Property Management Inc., Irvine, Calif., says his company manages approximately 100 associations and 20,000 homes in Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles, Calif., counties.

"Every city has an exclusive contract with a waste company to provide services for that particular entity," Leavitt says. "In some areas, independent haulers provide service in lieu of city or county services."

Not missing a pickup other than by pre-arranged agreement is a priority when choosing a hauler, according to Leavitt. "Exceptions include holidays," he says. "It's also important that haulers don't leave trash or debris in the streets."

Another important issue, Leavitt says, is offering services catered to his residents. For example, vehicles must fit the weight capacities for streets and walkways in the communities so service vehicles don't damage the properties' common areas.

Additionally, large-item pickups also must be available for Action Property Management Inc.'s residents to dispose of bulky items.

Cost Just One Consideration According to Karl Hutzler, manager of Habersham Estate, Atlanta, smart managers do their homework when looking for the right waste hauler. "Knowing all the details of contracts and bids, as well as finding out as much as possible about contractors and their reputations, is high on our priority list," he says.

Habersham Estate, a 10-story building consisting of 194 residential units and nine commercial units on the ground floor, is located within the city, which gives it the option of using city waste services, Hutzler says.

"We previously used city trash collection," he says. "They assessed us $50 per unit per year. With more than 200 total units, including the commercial tenants, we were paying $10,000 a year for trash removal."

After some investigation, Hutzler decided to switch to a commercial hauler, which he says now saves him about $3,200 a year. But decisions based on the lowest bid can end in disasters, he cautions.

"Managers and [community association] board members should put all the facts on the table for consideration, study them clearly and objectively, then make the decision," he says. "It's the responsibility of a good manager to investigate and provide clear and precise information to the board, and haulers would fare well by making sure the information they provide is thorough and clearly written."

Recycling Sometimes is Key CVI Inc., a management firm with 35 community associations in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., uses both city and private haulers, some of which provide recycling services, according Stephen Bupp, president. In areas where haulers don't provide recycling, CVI contracts for separate recycling service. This is because the communities under CVI's management average between a 25 percent to 40 percent recycling rate, Bupp says.

"We have reduced pickup days for regular trash when recycle programs are in place," he says.

Additionally, when CVI solicits for a private hauler, it evaluates a price, insurance coverage, the ability to handle our service requirements and sound references, Bupp says."Poor references or lack of appropriate insurance coverage are two areas that would instantly deter us from hiring a contractor."

Although recycling is relatively new to association living, in some areas, it's vital to hauler selection. Because association-style living generates huge amounts of waste in small areas, almost all association managers and board members issue guidelines to residents regarding waste products, including recyclables.

For example, at The Dorchester Condominium Inc., Palm Beach, Fla., manager Steve Lisi looks for a hauler who will pick up yard and tree cuttings and debris. This is a bigger problem in Florida than most states because foliage grows year round, and gated communities tend to generate a lot of this type of waste. Recycling, which the city collects, also is imperative, he says.

"We have a high recycling rate at our properties," Lisi says, "but it could always be higher. I'm certain not everyone takes full advantage of the opportunity to separate their trash to the maximum extent."

Lisi, who has been in association management in south Florida for 14 years, says a good management policy to encourage proper recycling includes providing residents with periodic reminders of what to recycle and how.

In each of the Dorchester's two buildings, there are five floors, housing a total of 50 units. Each floor offers a trash room with a garbage shoot and separate newspaper and plastics/glass recycling containers. According to Lisi, his staff empties the recycle containers daily, but the biggest problem is when residents put the wrong materials in the containers.

For example, residents don't know if they should include magazines in the newspaper bin. The issue is further complicated because some recycling plants in the country can handle magazines, while others cannot. Especially in cases where occupants keep two residences in different parts of the country with different recycle policies, this can become confusing, Lisi says.

"We deal with a high percentage of seasonal residents here," he explains. "We send out reminders at the beginning of the season in hopes of putting them in a recycle mode as soon as they return to their winter residences."

Lisi also posts notices on the bulletin boards that advise residents of trash and recycling pickup days. But to improve the process, Lisi says haulers should create guidelines that help residents understand what is acceptable. He recommends waste policies be published in the rules and regulations manuals that most associations give to new residents.

"In homeowner associations, rules extend to the sizes and materials of residents' trash containers," Lisi says. "Just as in condominium and townhome associations, residents also are limited to the type of trash they can put in the containers."

The Dorchester uses city collection services. However, "Homeowner associations outside city limits generally use private enterprise," Lisi notes.

Cooperation is Imperative Overall, getting residents to follow association and hauler guidelines is essential to a successful collection program, Lisi says. Although most residents follow trash guidelines, those who don't can create havoc for other residents.

"Most associations issue guidelines that state trash is not to be put outside on curbs prior to the night before pickup service is scheduled," Lisi says. If residents don't follow the guidelines, because of the large volume of waste association-style living generates, odors can arise. Thus, Lisi sends residents reminders in newsletters and issues written guidelines to new residents.

"We bring the offenders into the enforcement process if necessary," Leavitt adds.

CVI's Bupp agrees that one problem when residents don't comply with waste guidelines is that the smell of garbage will permeate the neighborhood.

"This is a particular problem in areas that utilize an enclosed trash room," he says. "Residents who don't use plastic bags to secure their garbage are the biggest culprits, and unfortunately, everyone in a building suffers when it happens."

Indeed, Prime Site's Meyer says one of her challenges is to get residents to put trash in the proper containers. "They sometimes use grocery sacks, department store bags and open cartons," she says. "Stray animals appreciate the easy access, but porters don't appreciate cleaning up after them every trash day."

When it comes down to it, a successful multi-family collection program depends on working with residents, community associations and the haulers. Because without good guidelines and cooperation, imagine what a community association would look and smell like within a short amount of time.

While absolute priorities differ between association boards and managers, most community associations want haulers to meet the same basic criteria. In no particular order of priority, an association's wish list includes:

* Fair and competitive prices;

* Ability to handle service requirements;

* Appropriate insurance coverage;

* References;

* Guaranteed thorough cleanup following pickups;

* Conscientious and courteous employees;

* Expedient follow-up on complaints and inquiries;

* On-time pickup;

* Alternative services for large items;

* Recycle materials pickup;

* Dependability;

* Extended and renewable contracts;

* Modern and property-maintained vehicles and equipment, including dumpsters and recycling containers; and

* Vehicles that meet standard weight requirements.

The Community Associations Institute (CAI), Alexandria, Va., has published Community Associations and the Environment, a book for associations offering techniques for protecting natural resources and saving money. The book also explains reasons why associations should be more recycle-conscious than ever, including dwindling landfill space and new siting and monitoring requirements that will increase the cost of operating landfills.

For a copy of the book, contact the Community Associations Institute, 1630 Duke St., Alexandria, Va. 22314. Phone: (703) 548-8600. Website:

Steve Lisi, manager of The Dorchester Condominium Inc., Palm Beach, Fla., offers his complex's resident trash regulations as a guide.

* All trash shall be neatly deposited in trash rooms or chutes intended for such purpose, and only at such times and in such manner as the Association will direct. All disposals shall be used in accordance with the instructions given to the unit owner by the Association.

* Only trash, bagged garbage and papers shall be deposited in the disposal chute.

* All construction trash must be removed from the property of the condominium without delay by the unit owner or his contractor who generated the trash.

* Non-construction trash must be deposited in the trash room in the garage if it is too large for the chute.

* Under no circumstances shall any object or material be placed or permitted in any hallway or other area of the condominium.

Multi-family living is an increasingly popular lifestyle for many reasons, including the amenities and services a management group handles such as waste disposal.

However, "dozens of condominium associations are being denied services that those living in single-family homes traditionally receive," says Donna Reichle, vice president of communications for the Community Associations Institute, (CAI) Alexandria, Va. For example, community residents must pay the same property taxes as other homeowners, yet many still pay separately for services, including trash collection, she says.

Consequently, many associations recently have formed coalitions, lobbied local officials and filed lawsuits to get equal treatment. The CAI also is currently spearheading efforts around the country to ensure all homeowners receive equal basic services for their tax dollar, Reichle says.

One key to getting housing projects approved by local officials often is getting developers to reduce the financial impact on a community, Reichle says. The leverage they use is that residents will shoulder the costs of services traditionally provided by the city or county. But this negotiation tool is unfair, according to some condominium owners and other residents of planned communities.

Last August, a federal judge ruled that residents of two condominium complexes in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, who paid roughly $30,000 a year for private trash collection, were being denied equal protection as guaranteed by the Constitution. The case is being appealed in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rodney D. Clark, CAI's vice president of government and public affairs, says the issue of fundamental fairness under the law has galvanized CAI's legislative action committees and advocacy efforts nationwide. "Discrimination against certain types of housing counters the well-established doctrine of equal services for all taxpayers," he says.

To the chagrin of residents, Margey Meyer, president of Prime Site Inc., Houston, says her waste hauler firms do not provide recycling services. "If our associations qualified for city trash services, recycling services would be provided at no additional charge," she says. "A few private companies offer recycle materials collection, but at an additional expense."

Meyer has tried for almost 15 years to persuade the city of Houston to extend its unique Trash Sponsorship Program to condominiums and townhomes. Currently, however, the program includes only homes with front doors facing public streets in non-gated communities. Because Houston funds its trash service through general tax revenues, the existing trash removal program was inequitable and resulted in double taxation for those not receiving city trash removal, she said.

"I finally succeeded in getting the attention of the current city council members, but now it looks as though they're seriously considering abolishing the sponsorship program in favor of a garbage fee assessed to every resident who benefits from city trash service," she says, adding that courts in New Jersey and Ohio recently have decided in favor of municipal service equality.

The National Apartment Association now is actively trying to include apartments in city trash removal programs because apartment owners also pay property taxes. Meyer predicts most municipalities will begin moving toward a separate trash fee to avoid further litigation over tax equity.

The Community Associations Institute, Alexandria, Va., gathered recycling tips from waste haulers and associations. Here are their suggestions.

1. Obtain resident support. Resident support is essential to program success. Associations should survey resident attitudes toward recycling. Make sure residents understand the possible costs of recycling and the potential savings. Obtain suggestions on how to make the program successful.

2. Design the program. First, the association, its management and the hauler should review current garbage collection practices and survey the grounds. Then, determine where storage space is and whether it meets fire codes and housing regulations. Is it easily accessible by the collector and residents alike? Is it likely to attract other types of waste?

3. Make it convenient. The easier it is to recycle, the more people will participate.

4. Consider the costs. Calculate the program costs, including fees for contracting a recycle collector, buying recyclables storage containers (unless they are supplied by the hauler), and promoting and purchasing educational materials for residents.

5. Establish a training program. To ensure the quality and quantity of the recycled materials, residents require instruction on what materials to separate, how to separate and store them, and where to take the materials. Educational-tools can include presentations at association meetings, block or building meetings, and instructional handouts. Place instructional signs at drop-off sites or on a central bulletin board.

6. Implement the program. Establish a program start date during the planning stage. Have all equipment and educational programs in place to prepare residents for participation. To generate excitement, consider a small kick-off event.

Other questions to ask include:

* What materials will be collected?

* How will residents carry recyclables to collection points?

* What kind of communication will you have with residents?

* Where will collection points be located?

* Will central containers be confused with trash drop-off areas?

* How much material will each building or home recover?

* How will collection points be serviced?

* Do you have the necessary equipment?

* Where will materials go after collection?

* What are the potential long-term savings or benefits?

* What other community resources are available?

* When will you implement the program?

* What will your pickup schedules be?

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