The Pros and Cons of Using Contractors for Landscaping Work


Question: I live in a condominium association with more than 200 units. The landscaping features of our complex are labor-intensive because of water features. Until recently the association employed on-site employees who took care of the maintenance and repairs. The board of directors decided to outsource the maintenance by using contractors instead of employees.

I would like to perform a comprehensive cost analysis by comparing in-house labor with the independent contractors. I know there are intangible benefits and some liabilities regarding in-house labor. Other associations must wrestle with similar decisions. Are there any resources that could shed some light on this topic?

Answer: One publication is a booklet called “Grounds Maintenance for the Community Association” by Bette Weseman. It is published by Community Assns. Institute and may be obtained by calling one of the local chapters of the organization or accessing the CAI Web site at The booklet describes the advantages and disadvantages to having your own employees; however, it doesn’t directly address the cost analysis.


The following lists of advantages and disadvantages point out some of the cost factors that should be considered. The figures must come from your association’s accounting records. Bear in mind that it may be difficult to get information about employee salaries and other cost factors if you are not on the board. Most associations protect the privacy of their employee records and contracts.

The booklet lists these advantages when contractors are used for grounds care:

* Workers perform productively since contract provisions must be carried out.

* Contractors’ specialized expertise increases quality and efficiency of work performed.

* Association is not required to invest in equipment or keep track of the equipment.

* Contracted workers require less supervision.

* Costs are fixed if the contract includes weed control, fertilization and other incidental expense.

* Contractor is responsible for insurance liability and personnel record-keeping.

* Work force is stable if the contractors perform well and treat their employees well.

The disadvantages:

* Association loses some control over how well and when jobs will be done.

* Costs may be higher.

* Maintenance personnel may turn over more often if work is unsatisfactory and contractor is changed.

* Personnel are less likely to be available to respond to emergencies unless specified in their contract.

The association board may have decided that the employees did not have the knowledge or skills to maintain streams or ponds, trim trees and take care of other landscaping needs. Lawn care is more complex than just mowing.

Problems with supervision or discovering employee dishonesty will often lead a board toward relying upon contract labor, though this information should be kept confidential to protect the association from liability. Even if the tangible costs are higher for contractors, the board may have determined that hiring contractors was more beneficial.


Association’s Ban on Dogs May Stand

Q: Our condominium association is a large high-rise. The association’s governing documents allow cats, birds and fish but prohibit dogs. With the new law must we now allow owners to have dogs?

A: No, an existing association may continue to prohibit dogs unless or until the governing documents are changed or amended. The governing documents, as listed in Civil Code 1360.5, include the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions, the bylaws and the rules and regulations.


Jan Hickenbottom is a community association management consultant and a founding director of the California Assn. of Community Managers. Send questions to: Condo Q&A;, Private Mailbox 263, 4790 Irvine Blvd., No. 105, Irvine, CA 92620-1998.