Is it “safe” for community associations to allow food trucks on common areas?

Food trucks are very on trend right now, and many homeowner and condominium associations are considering inviting them to gatherings and community wide parties. Hopefully, boards think before they make a call and reach out to their attorney or manager to make sure that they are proceeding legally. Here are some thoughts to consider when choosing when or how to invite a food truck to your next community event.

First, boards generally have the right to decide whether or not to invite or allow food trucks on the common area. Common areas, such as pool decks, clubhouses, community parking lots and playgrounds, are owned by the membership in common, in undivided interests, but are subject to the board’s authority to impose reasonable rules and regulations regarding these areas. Some communities may have rules about when and how food trucks can be parked on the common areas. Others may require pre-approval or only allow visits on a case by case basis. The board should exercise its best business judgment when considering if it makes sense to bring in this type of activity while taking into consideration safety, the adequacy of the space, other burdens on the location, and proximity to any high-traffic or dangerous areas.

Second, boards should make sure that allowing food trucks to operate upon or conduct business within the common area does not become a violation of the governing documents or local zoning. Most declarations prohibit the use of lots for business purposes, and restrict the usage of common areas in similar ways. And, common areas are almost always zoned for residential use. An occasional food truck event on the common area is almost certainly not a violation of these restrictions, but a weekly- or more- event is likely to lead to objections, from inside and outside of the community.

Third, the Association should do its best to make certain that vendors are properly licensed and ideally insured for the services they are providing. Basic due diligence will include making sure that the food truck has a current license with the locality. Reputable businesses also will have current liability policies in place, and the Association should ask to see such a policy before inviting the vendor onto the common area.  (We always recommend that Associations with questions about insurance and coverage contact their agents about their particular coverage and its limitations.)

Finally, the Association needs to exercise common sense when inviting vendors on site. It likely does not make sense to invite multiple vendors selling alcohol-only onto the common area (and yes, these “booze trucks” do exist). This creates risk for the Association. Food vendors, including those who sell alcohol as part of, but not exclusively their services, are likely a better option to reduce potential risks and liability will likely have a more widespread appeal for the community members at large.

If you have questions about this or any other community association related matter, please contact one of our North Carolina attorneys in Charlotte, Greensboro, Wilmington or the Triangle, or our South Carolina attorneys in Greenville and Columbia.