What should condominium corporations look for in landscaping contracts?
Experience suggests the most successful relationships between condominium corporations and landscape contractors always involve two things: a contractor who knows condominiums and good communication between all involved — management, board, committees and contractor. Here are a few critical considerations to make when negotiating contracts:
When searching for a new landscape contractor, give priority to those that have worked with condominiums. They will understand unique requirements such as heightened security concerns, the longer decision-making process and the numerous players involved. A contractor needs to be comfortable collaborating with all of them and accept that the relationship will take more of its time.
If a property is in a congested urban area, a contractor who is familiar with the big-city challenges of parking, confined spaces and gardens that are often on rooftops makes the owner’s job easier.
Knowing the condominium’s gardener is about good, consistent communication. When negotiating, stipulate that the corporation wants the same crew leader and team every visit. Ideally, representatives of the corporation should meet that crew leader before committing. The corporation will ideally find a crew leader who wants to collaborate with the corporation and take ownership of its property’s landscaping.
A related point: consider establishing a landscape committee or point person that can work with the contractor’s personnel. A constant exchange of ideas makes for the best gardens.
The typical landscape contract is long on legal protections, but often does not spell out what is to be provided — certainly not in enough detail. This is particularly true of annual plantings. The contractor should give the corporation a detailed planting plan for each season: what plants, where, and roughly how many. Here again, the corporation’s landscape committee can play a role in creating those plans. It is the one certain way of getting what the corporation wants.
Also require the contractor to specify its rates and charges for work not included in the contract. Additional work always arises and the corporation needs to know the basis for the quotes. Needless to say, never agree to additional work without a firm specification and quote.
It’s important to secure both cost and time commitments for all work. Make sure the contract specifies when work is to be done and when it is to be completed. There is nothing more frustrating than a summer planting that doesn’t get completed until August.
If the corporation’s staff is to perform any landscape work (e.g. watering container plantings), make clear who is responsible for what.
The contract should also specify who is responsible for paying to repair inadvertent damage to features such as irrigation and lighting, which will almost certainly occur.
Finally, the contract must specify specific days and times of service visits.
Consider negotiating a multi-year contract. Landscapers are happy to avoid the time and expense entailed in quoting annually and are often willing to commit to modest increases year over year. An added benefit: the corporation should receive better care as the landscaper develops a grasp of plant health, project development, long-term property goals and corporation preferences.
What about a four-season contract? There are obvious advantages in having one contractor and one contract. For example, a corporation can avoid that annual spring argument between landscape and snow contractors over who is responsible for the winter kill. One potential drawback to note: the corporation needs an experienced gardener who knows the property and its plants. All-season contractors may not have that expertise on staff.
Pay attention to the fine print. Ideally the landscaper commits to replacing plants that are either dead or ‘failing to thrive.’ The warranty should be one year from date of planting — possibly longer for mature plants. Make sure that both the cost of the replacement plant and the cost of labour to install it are included in the warranty.
While a corporation can always ask, do not expect a contractor to warrant tender plants such as bulbs, roses and annuals.
All contractors should provide the corporation with their WSIB number and a certificate of insurance naming the corporation as an insured party. Also ensure the contractor has adequate liability coverage — in this contractor’s opinion, a minimum of $1 million.
The contract must require that the contractor adhere to all applicable legislation, including that relating to pesticide application, occupational health and safety and WHMIS.
As an added security measure, consider requiring all landscape staff to be neatly attired in a clearly identifiable uniform.
Needless to say, a contractor may not agree to all of the above, but there is no harm in negotiating for them!
Allan Kling is president of Urban Garden, a Toronto-based company specializing in the design, construction and maintenance of landscapes for condominiums. Allan is a Certified Landscape Professional, a member of Landscape Ontario, ACMO, BOMA Toronto, and the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association. He is also president of Toronto Botanical Garden and sits on the board of Landscape Ontario’s Toronto Chapter. Allan can be contacted at [email protected] or 416-805-0703.