Dear Mr. Richardson,
Our board has indicated that they plan to remove all turf from the front yards of our community and replace it with various types of non-turf plants. The vast majority of homeowners oppose such a plan. Can a board make a decision of this nature and magnitude without homeowner approval? Their decision would make a highly significant change to the appearance of our community.
Thanks for any guidance you can give,
I assume from your question that the front yards in your community are common areas or under the governing documents are controlled by the association. Many cities have offered turf replacement programs, funded by the Metropolitan Water District. Such information can be found at www.socalwatersmart.com. One of the fundamental roles of the HOA board is to make decisions regarding common areas, and many boards in recent years have pursued rebates and saved water by reducing common area turf.
However, there is a difference between having the legal power to act and the discretion in using that power. Sometimes “can we?” should also be accompanied by “should we?” If the change, even though economically sound, would substantially affect life in the community, it might be something on which the board should seek member input. Straw polls to members, town hall meetings, bulletins, or “FAQ” documents are all options which are not legally required but should be regarded as necessary from the perspective of the association’s community aspects. While HOAs are legal corporations, they are also neighborhoods, and association boards should consider whether some major decisions should be delayed to allow for extra communication to members and thereby build community cohesion.
Thanks for your question,
We live in a residential community of single family homes with an HOA. Homeowners have been getting notices stating that since the drought is over, homeowners need to “restore” their lawns and in some cases are told to return them to the “original design.” We’ve never had our CC&Rs or architectural guidelines updated, and the booklet forbids the use of artificial turf.
Under Civil 4735, can the HOA really demand that we return our lawns to the “original design?” Should the HOA draft new guidelines to conform with Section 4735?
Most of Civil Code 4735 is still very much in effect. Section 4735(a) does not allow HOAs to enforce rules prohibiting low water landscaping or artificial turf. The only part of 4735 which no longer is in force is subpart “c”, which was in effect during a state of declared drought emergency. Under that subsection, HOAs could not penalize a homeowner for underwatering their yards and letting them “go brown.” However, on April 7, 2017, the Governor declared the drought emergency over. That means that starting April 8, 2017, associations could again require homeowners to water their landscaping.
T.M., it appears your HOA board may have confused the temporary part of the law (part “c”) with the permanent parts of Civil 4735. Once a homeowner has installed xeriscape or artificial turf, they cannot under current law be forced to reverse that landscaping. The landscaping still must be neatly kept, per 4735(b).
Hoping this helps clear up the confusion,
Kelly G. Richardson Esq., CCAL, is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and a Partner of Richardson | Ober | DeNichilo LLP, a California law firm known for community association advice. Submit questions to Kelly@rodllp.com. Past columns at www.HOAHomefront.com. All rights reserved®.