Refuse and recycling bins sit outside of a multifamily property

Overloaded dumpsters. Garbage piling up in cans that never make it to the curb. Trash and recycling thrown into whatever bin is closest. There’s no shortage of problem scenarios that can arise regarding trash collection at multifamily properties. Avoid them with these tips from seasoned experts. 

Hold residents accountable

When Domenick Ferrera first purchased eight units across adjacent properties in Westchester, New York, he provided communal trash cans and encouraged renters to collectively handle the chore of getting the cans to the curb. 

Instead, the cans stayed put and the garbage piled up, says Ferrera, Executive Director on the Commercial Real Estate Digital Business team at JPMorgan Chase and a self-taught real estate investor. 

When renters share responsibility for dealing with trash, “every person’s going to say, ‘Why am I bringing someone else’s trash to the curb?’” Ferrera says. 

He assigned each unit a designated can and made each unit’s residents responsible for getting it to the curb. Ferrera also announced a three-strike policy, culminating in a fine, if he spotted issues while visiting the property. The switch worked: Ferrera says he’s given out a couple warnings but never had to issue a fine. 

Tip: Assign each unit a specific bin to bring to the curb and enforce accountability. 

Don’t let problems pile up at dumpsters

While dumpsters can help owners avoid conflicts over bringing cans to the curb, they can also attract excess trash, leaving property owners facing extra costs for overflowing dumpsters or abandoned items like couches and mattresses that aren’t covered by standard trash pickup. 

Waste management companies’ fees for overloaded dumpsters can be several times the cost of a weekly pickup and cities can issue fines for trash left sitting out, says Rusty Schluchter, co-owner and senior property manager at CPG Management, which manages several hundred rental units in the Chicago area. 

Properties with dumpsters at the end of an alley are particularly vulnerable, especially near the end of the month, when people preparing for a move see them as a handy spot to ditch unwanted furniture, says Jeff Kerr, co-owner and managing broker at CPG Management. 

Kerr recommends scheduling more frequent pickups at buildings known to have issues with people dumping excess garbage. It’s more expensive, but if you try to skimp on pickup frequency, “you’re going to pay for the difference in overage charges,” he says. 

Some property owners and managers get tempted to set up security cameras to try to catch people leaving furniture and excess waste at dumpsters. Schluchter and Kerr are skeptical of cameras: Even if one catches someone in the act, it’s difficult and expensive to track down the culprit. Cameras can help if a resident is to blame, but problems often come from outside the building, Kerr says. 

Placing locks on dumpsters can be effective, though it’s less convenient for residents and locks can freeze during chilly Chicago winters, Kerr says. “It’s not ideal but it’s making the best of a no-win situation,” he says. 

Tip: For high-traffic dumpsters, bite the bullet and pay for more frequent pickups.

Pay a pro

Paying someone to handle trash at a property makes it easy to hold them accountable, heading off tricky conversations about who’s to blame when waste piles up. It can be difficult to tell when a renter is flouting the rules, and when they’re legitimately having trouble keeping up with housework, says Leonard Ang, CEO of iPropertyManagement and owner of multifamily properties in California, Colorado and Washington.

“There's a lot of dishonesty and shame involved here,” he says. 

Paying for trash duty isn’t just for big buildings with on-site maintenance staff. Ang usually makes trash part of the property maintenance crew’s job, but he also has some properties where he pays a renter to take care of the cans. 

One of CPG Management’s clients pays their landscapers to drive by the property weekly and take care of any trash issues. 

“There’s a charge the landlord pays, but it’s much less than fines and overage charges,” Kerr says. 

If owners don’t want to pay someone to manage trash, they can still try to avoid fines by forming a relationship with a renter who’s willing to keep an eye out and call if they spot an overflowing bin, he says. 

Tip: Outsource trash management to maintenance staff, landscapers or renters. 

Keep trash sorting as painless as possible

The best way to avoid problems with waste types getting mixed? Make it as easy as possible for renters to follow the rules, says Luann Meyer, president of the Solid Waste Association of North America’s New York chapter and senior project manager at consulting firm Barton & Loguidice. 

Property owners should post signage at each bin that clearly indicates what goes inside, including describing the types of things that can be recycled, Meyer says. 

She also recommends “twinning the bin” — placing garbage and recycling bins next to each other, in an accessible spot — so people don’t just throw everything in whatever bin is closest. 

To encourage recycling at one 50-unit building in the Los Angeles area, Kari Negri, founder and CEO of SKY Properties, gave each unit a can for recyclables and asked the night manager to collect them three nights a week. Negri says she thinks it encourages people to recycle, which keeps trash costs down, and it keeps the night manager busy. 

“It’s a good use of resources and a nice thing to do,” she says.   

Tip: Make recycling easy with clear signage, “twinning” bins and even hiring someone to distribute and collect recycling bins for each unit. 


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