Condo owners looking for relief from fees

Condo owners looking for relief from fees

Richard Monteiro, president of the homeowner’s association at Tower Heights condominium complex in Woonsocket, is lobbying for a tax exemption for condo owners who don’t receive trash pickup.

What if you had to pay for a municipal service that you weren’t receiving?

That’s the question condo owners in both Woonsocket and North Smithfield are raising as it relates to their trash pickup, or rather, lack of it.

In both communities, trash and recycling pickup fees are included in the property taxes for residential homes. However, the apartment-style setup of many condominium complexes means that curbside pickup is impossible and the homeowner’s associations have to contract out for their own private trash service. Some condo owners feel that they’re being charged twice to get rid of their trash – once in their taxes and once in their HOA fees.

Richard Monteiro is president of the association for Tower Heights Condominiums on St. Joseph Street in Woonsocket. Though he’s not a resident, he and his wife own a condo unit that they rent to their daughter. The association, he said, pays about $5,600 per year on average for a truck to come and remove trash from a dumpster in the Tower Heights parking lot.

“We don’t get any consideration to offset the fact that we do not enjoy the same service that single-family houses would get,” he said.

At $175 per month, the group’s HOA fees are on the lower end for city complexes, but Monteiro said that can still be a lot on top of residential taxes. With the cost of trash pickup increasing, he worries some residents are being charged too much for a service they already pay for through the city.

“The majority of the owners are all in their 60s, 70s, some in their 80s, so they’re on a fixed income, and it’s a struggle to maintain a low HOA fee that the owners have to pay,” he said.

Earlier this month, Monteiro sent an email to city councilors with a proposal to offer a tax exemption to condo owners who don’t receive trash pickup. The exemption, he said, would be similar to ones the city already offers for veterans and owner-occupied homes. After speaking with other condo associations, he arrived at a proposed number of $200, close to what some larger complexes pay annually for per-unit trash pickup.

Monteiro argued the arrangement is not without precedence. In Cumberland, he said, the town already pays the cost of trash and recycling pickup at many of its condo complexes using the same provider that picks up at single-family homes. The exemption, he said, could be restricted to owner-occupied units, meaning his own situation wouldn’t apply.

“I don’t have anything immediately to gain by this other than folks in my condo complex would,” he said.

Monteiro said he’s received mixed reactions from city councilors, who haven’t yet considered a formal proposal.

The situation is familiar to Michael Debroisse, superintendent of solid waste and engineering for the city. Though he said he couldn’t comment on the Woonsocket issue, Debroisse is currently in his own discussions with North Smithfield town officials about recognizing the rights of homeowners at the High Rocks Condominiums, where he lives and serves on the residential sub-association board.

Earlier this month, Debroisse presented similar arguments to the North Smithfield Planning Board. Unlike in Woonsocket, where several condo complexes around the city pay their own trash fees, High Rocks is unique in North Smithfield, where most condo developments have a townhouse style that allows for curbside pickup. The complex, he said, pays about $15,000 a year for trash pickup, depending on how many bins they fill.

“My understanding talking with town officials is right now, every taxpayer is serviced by town trash collection except this one,” he said.

Debroisse has been in discussions with the Public Works Department about adding High Rocks to the town’s trash contract with MTG Disposal. Because High Rocks uses large bins instead of a dumpster, he argued, the company wouldn’t need any extra equipment to add them to the route. The town already provides recycling pickup at the 128-unit residential complex.

“On our part, I think it would be cheaper to the town just to service it versus 128 units trying to do some kind of tax treaty with the condo association,” he said.

Though the Planning Board offered their support for the effort, like in Woonsocket, the issue has yet to go before the Town Council for a vote. Debroisse said he hopes to resolve the issue before the town signs its next trash service contract.

The High Rocks Condominiums in North Smithfield, where resident and board member Michael Debroisse is lobbying to receive trash pickup as part of their town services.