Help me fight the power and get rid of my stinky trash!
January 3, 2008 9:22 AM   Subscribe

My HOA negotiated an exclusive contract with a garbage company -- and the garbage company has increased rates and decreased service. Help!

I live in a planned community and the HOA (which is still partly under control from the developer via a management company) has negotiated an exclusive contract with Waste Management.

Unfortunately, WM has reduced service (waste pickup on Tuesdays; recycle pickup on Fridays) from the previous schedule (waste/recycle pickup on Tuesdays & Fridays) AND increased their rates.

I'd like to switch to another service (one that services 2x a week), but was told by WM that I cannot cancel service and that no other providers were allowed in the community due to the exclusive contract.

My problem with this situation isn't that I have too much trash, but rather my trash tends to be the decomposing/smelly kind (like broccoli, raw chicken, and cat litter) rather than the cardboard/recyclable kind. However, I can't keep my trash bin outside due to the HOA regulations, and I can't even keep it in the backyard. Thus, my garage is hella-stinky. (Yes, I bag my trash; yes, the container is closed. It's just that I live in the desert where, for most of the year, my garage is 80+ degrees.)

Another community in town has been having the same problem (and even admitted to not knowing that they were signing an exclusive contract) but they have not resolved the issue.

So, what do you suggest? A coup d'etat of the HOA would take time, but I have no interest in serving on the board -- I just want my stinky trash picked up more often. Could I tell WM that I'm moving and cancel service that way? What's the worst that could happen if I violate my HOA rules?
posted by parilous to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What's the worst that could happen if I violate my HOA rules?
This ought to be spelled out in your covenants and such. The worst might be fine, which could lead to a lien, etc. YMMV.

Are there other residents experiencing the same grief? Your best bet may be to rally others together and show up at the next meeting for an airing of the grievances.
posted by jquinby at 9:28 AM on January 3, 2008

You don't want to be involved in running the HOA, but you want the HOA to fix your problem? Sounds like you need to get involved in running the HOA or at least show up at the next meeting.

We had WM for our trash pickup, and the service was terrible. They wouldn't pick up large items without a special phone call. If there was trash next to the dumpster, they wouldn't pick it up, etc. We didn't mind paying for extra stuff. We just didn't want them to have to call their offices every time we wanted an extra trash bag picked up.

Then the last straw: they sent over a contract like the one you described. They were baffled when we told them where to stick it and hired someone else. Never regretted it.
posted by mrbugsentry at 9:37 AM on January 3, 2008

How much trash do you produce? Could you separate out the stinky stuff and keep it in a diaper pail or maybe even use a diaper genie?
posted by AaRdVarK at 9:44 AM on January 3, 2008

Put the cat litter in a diaper genie and throw the produce and meat trash into gallon sized freezer ziplock bags and freeze them until garbage day.
posted by jerseygirl at 9:51 AM on January 3, 2008

I used to have a similar problem with infrequent trash pick-up, stinky garbage and 90 + degree heat. My solution was to keep a plastic grocery bag in his freezer and put stuff I knew would start stinking immediately (raw meats, veg, etc) in there. It may seem counter-intuitive to preserve "garbage", but it works out to be totally hygienic in practice. As an added measure, I made a mental map of all accessible dumpsters in the vicinity, and when leaving the apartment to go somewhere I'd take the bag w/ and ditch it along the way.

But that was when I was living alone in a studio in central Philadelphia, so your mileage may vary.
posted by kickback at 10:01 AM on January 3, 2008

Is it that you cannot keep your trash outside, or you cannot keep your trash visible outside? It may be that you could erect a privacy fence of some sort to disguise/hide your cans, though you might need to get approval for anything you put up.

Barring that, charcoal is your friend. We've got a compost pail in our kitchen that has a charcoal filter that something like broccoli goes into. We don't find it very smelly to begin with, and we put in all kinds of things like broccoli, egg shells, cauliflower, peas, potato peels, etc, but the filter is a nice fallback. Can you put an attractive bin in your backyard? If not you can still collect things there till garbage day.

The cat poop is a great candidate for a diaper pail thing as suggested above.

For things like chicken bits I'd suggest what a friend of mine does. After he opens the package and trims the fat he puts the package back in the freezer. It hardens up and lives there till the garbage goes to the curb rather than rotting in the can.

Really, as mrbugsentry implies, if you want the HOA to reflect your desires, you need to participate in some way. You may as well; you signed away your rights to 100% self-governance when you purchased property with covenants on it.

At the very least you need to examine the covenants to determine what the HOA can determine (likely almost everything) and then look at the HOA rules to determine what can be changed, with what frequency, and by whose declarations.

Some things the board will be able to simply do. Others will require a rule change, which likely will have to go to a general vote of members on a set schedule. Allowances for outside garbage cans, attractively hidden, likely would need a general vote.
posted by phearlez at 10:20 AM on January 3, 2008

The short version:
Various parts of your smelly trash can be composted, frozen, bagged, or eliminated altogether.

The long version:
You can compost most plant-based organics that haven't been cooked, but don't try to compost corn or grapefruit (or some other things, search "compost"). You can even get special containers that speed up the process and hide your project from nosy neighbors. Adding ruminant and poultry manure, grass clippings and dry leaves helps the process along as well (yes, manure smells, but it dissipates once you mix it into the existing compost). Compost, when done correctly, smells earthy, like the dirt under the dead leaves in the forest. Completed compost can be used to enrich your flower beds.

You could also set up a worm bin (in your garage, even) that will allow you to dispose of those uncooked plant materials without odor. It is relatively low-cost if you re-purpose inexpensive items to make the bin. Once it's set up, you simply need to change the bedding (shredded paper) occasionally. Search "worm bin" for that one.

For the animal products (raw chicken), if you have space in your freezer, you can freeze chicken bones and other animal product kitchen refuse until trash day to keep the odor down. Just put it in a heavy duty zipper baggie to keep it separate from everything else.

The kitty litter could go into a zipper baggie before going into the trash to cut down on odors there (dog, cat, and human waste should *never* be composted, btw). Or, you could train your cat to use the toilet - I have friends who have done this, and they say it's the best thing they've ever done. You can't tell that they have a cat.

For the composting bit, you can also check with your county Extension Office - they often have information about composting and may even have free classes. And if you don't think composting is feasible, they might be able to hook you up with another composter to whom you can donate your plant matter, and just freeze it until you donate it.
posted by Cordelya at 10:41 AM on January 3, 2008

Didn't anyone watch The Sopranos? You don't want to get involved with waste management Or for that matter WM. However if the contract stipulated the number of pickups, and WM just arbitrarily decided to change it then you need to go to the HOA and make a stink (pun intended).
posted by Gungho at 10:42 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Short answer is that HOA suck. My father has had innumerable problems with his HOA. Everthing said above is true and good advice ... however, if you're willing to go guerilla, you do have options. Such has putting all rotting items (nothing that identifies you) in plastic and leaving it at night on the lawns of the HOA officers. Another thing to do would be seed your trash (not in bags, just out on it's own) all around the neighborhood until the HOA gets the message that there haven't been enough pickups and coyotes, dogs, etc are dragging trash in to the area.

You could also call WM on Fridays and "complain" that they left your trash out Tues and didn't pick it up and demand they come get it. It won't work for very long, but they'll get the message when they come out 3 times in a row to pick up "left" trash. Not that I would ever do such things myself ... no sirrreeee.

All said though, your best bet is a HOA coup d'etat. That and tons of letters, letter from your attorney, claiming abuse of power, etc to the officers. They love to throw around official papers so throw it right at them.

In the long run, it's always easiest to find neighborhoods where there is no HOA or it is toothless. This year we put up an USA flag in our backyard and the "HOA" complained saying it might offend someone. Luckily, since our HOA has ZERO power we got a good laugh from their letter. We replied in a kindly note that anyone offended by our flag can fly their own or move to their country of choice.
posted by damiano99 at 11:12 AM on January 3, 2008

Gungho has it right. While I don't know if if the Italian Mob is running things in your town, I would almost guarantee that WM is one of highest political money donators to the people running your local government.

My hometown (Santa Clarita, CA) went though this 5 or so years ago. The city announced that they were going to re-negotiate the trash pickup contracts and almost immediately our local city council members broke city records for fundraising. And guess what, the top donators were the trash companies and the highest paying firms got the contracts.

These are mandatory contracts as well. Even the roll off big trash bins used for construction and all that must come from "approved" vendors.

If you want to stir up a bunch of trouble, you could go to the election before WM got the contact and see if your local government guys got a bunch of money from them. Then you could complain to your local media and see if they can make a big deal out of it.
posted by sideshow at 11:50 AM on January 3, 2008

Best answer: "What's the worst that could happen if I violate my HOA rules?"

This varies from place to place but worse case they could assess a fine (which you may not know about), you refuse (or are unable to pay), they foreclose on your house, and sell it for 0.7% of it's value.
posted by Mitheral at 4:34 PM on January 3, 2008

Response by poster: Mrbugsentry: My HOA is the source of the problem, which is why I want them to solve it. However, I'm willing to work around the HOA if I can. :-)

Jerseygirl, kickback, and others that recommended freezing: I currently don't have the freezer space for all of the foostuffs that I would need to freeze, but it's a good idea and I'm planning on watching Craigslist for any freezers for sale.

Thanks, Cordelya, for recommending the composting, but I live in the desert and don't grow things that require composting. I'll keep that in mind for the future.

And sadly, it seems that I wasted my question this week. And just when I had something major to ask about how to break an 11-year old's "addiction" to TV and whether or not it's healthy to get rid of TV altogether. I guess that question will have to wait until next week. :(
posted by parilous at 8:29 AM on January 4, 2008

Best answer: UPDATE from the OP:

According to minutes from the HOA annual meeting, our HOA doesn't HAVE an "exclusive contract" with Waste Management.

Those lying bastages!

And now, to switch service...
posted by parilous at 8:33 AM on February 19, 2008

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