Condo Media December 2012

Forest Product Materials
Otherwise Known as Mulch  

By Henry A. Goodman, Esq.

I live in a condominium. I have lived in condominiums for more than 30 years. This year, for the first time, I along with all my fellow unit owners received an advisory from our board that we were expected to keep the mulch around our
units moist. The reason given was that an area of mulch around a rock in the common area burst into flames. I thought that must be because the board “cheaped out” and purchased inferior mulch. To me, mulch bursting into flames was unheard of. Further, it is not the unit owners’ job to water the mulch.

Shortly thereafter, I learned that the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMRs) was amended — 527 CMR 17.04, Section 31.1 (a provision I am certain you are all familiar with) which deals with lumber and other forest material and provides for the storage and location of such materials. Mulch is one of these materials. I guess that mine is not the only condominium or other property that purchases flammable mulch. In fact, this change was in response to a fire that destroyed a condominium.

The regulation provides that:

  • Mulch means any type of forest material that is produced for the purpose of spreading or application over the surface of the soil as a protective cover to retain moisture, reduce erosion, provide nutrients and suppress weed growth, seed germination and for general land­scaping purposes.
  • If such materials are permitted to accumulate in a quantity or loca­tion that may constitute an undue public safety hazard, adequate fencing of not less than six feet in height with an approved locked gate located as necessary to allow the entry of fire department appa­ratus shall be provided. The fenc­ing shall encompass the material or property.
  • In any building containing more than six dwelling units, regardless of fire separations, mulch shall not be newly applied within 18 inches of any combustible portion of any building.

While I am not sure why people in buildings containing less than six units do not need this protection, I would certainly recommend that they be advised to check the changes to the ordinances made in recent years that pertain to smoke detectors.

In any event, before you enter into new landscaping contracts, if you have buildings of more than six units, please be certain that the contract complies with this new provision of the code.

Henry A. Goodman, a part­ner in the law firm of Goodman, Shapiro & Lombardi, LLC. An active CAI member, he is chair of the CAI national Business Partners Council, serves on the Massachusetts Legislative Action Committee (MALAC) and several other chapter committees.
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