Every community that has common area streets, parking areas, sidewalks, and/or walking paths should have a snow and ice removal contract in place well before the start of winter.  These contracts should include pricing for both labor (shoveling, snowblowing, plowing, product spreading) and materials (sand, salt, ice melt, etc.).  They should include specifics regarding which common elements are the association’s responsibility, and which are not.  Finally, they should specify when service is to be provided.

Most contracts offer two options as far as when service should be provided: 1) automatically at 2” – 3” of accumulation, or 2) upon request only.  ProCom always recommends the former, as this assures that the community will receive prompt service without the need for a phone call or E-Mail from the Board or management.  This is especially helpful when a storm arrives in the middle of night.  However, that does not mean that the Board and management should leave all decisions to the vendor, especially in central Maryland where winter weather is so unpredictable and constantly changes from one day to the next.

The Board must first consider the type of precipitation, not just when the storm arrives but also as it evolves.  The easiest storms to mitigate are those that drop 100% snow, because they are the most predictable.  However, what if a storm drops four inches of snow, but then turns into a 12-hour rain event?  The Board may opt to save a few bucks and let mother nature wash away the accumulation.  Did anyone tell the vendor not to plow the four inches of snow?

Alternatively, many storms drop nothing but freezing rain and/or sleet.  These storms are the number one source of slip and fall claims, as they turn every surface into an ice skating rink.  However, remember that the vendor will only start service automatically upon 2” – 3” of accumulation.  In this case, the Board or management must specifically request service.

One of the most challenging decisions comes the day after a storm.  How well were the common areas cleared initially?  Is more plowing/shoveling and/or more product required because temperatures remain below freezing?  Alternatively, is the warm sun and higher temperatures going to take care of anything remaining?  What about re-freeze on the second night?  Does additional product need to be spread to eliminate black ice the next morning?

Lastly, while the Board’s primary goal with snow and ice removal should be limiting liability, the reality is that there is a snow budget that must be considered.  If a particular winter is inordinately bad, the Board may be forced to tighten its belt and prioritize only the most critical areas, opt for salt instead of ice melt, or forgo that follow up visit towards the end of the season.  If no one communicates this change in strategy to the vendor, they will assume that the Board wants the same high level of service that they have been providing all season.

Because of the constantly changing and difficult to forecast winter weather in Maryland, a unique snow and ice removal strategy is required from one storm to the next.  It is imperative that the Board and management communicate with the snow vendor before, during, and after each storm.  A failure to do so forces the vendor to guess, which is a bad game plan for something as important as limiting liability.