Saving Our Lawns or Saving Our Artificial Turf?

Saving Our Lawns or Saving Our Artificial Turf?

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, F.G., Oceanside Dear F.G., 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...
The Drought Emergency is Over. Back to Business as Usual?

The Drought Emergency is Over. Back to Business as Usual?

On April 7, 2017, Governor Brown issued Executive Order B-40-17, formally ending the drought emergency, which can be read in its entirety at https://www.gov.ca.gov, the Governor’s web site. The Order is not only confirmation of good news for California, but also immediately changes the applicability of two important statutes in the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act. The Declaration of Drought Emergency was issued by Governor Brown on January 17, 2014, the culmination of several water conservation orders. Shortly after that Declaration, the California Legislature swiftly passed emergency legislation, adding certain protections to the Davis-Stirling Act regarding water conservation. Civil Code 4735 Civil Code 4735(c) prohibited associations from fining or assessing an owner who let their yard “go brown” by not watering it during a declared state of drought emergency. Now that the statewide emergency declaration is rescinded, the statewide prohibition against enforcing landscape maintenance obligations against owners who refused to water their yards also has ended. This section still may apply if a local jurisdiction (city or county) has its own declaration of drought emergency still in place, so managers and boards would be well advised to check with their local jurisdiction for any such local declaration. Civil Code 4736 Civil Code 4736 rendered unenforceable any requirement that an owner pressure wash the exterior of their home, so long as a statewide or local declaration of drought emergency is in place. Associations which require their residents to wash their exterior walls may again enforce that requirement, unless the local jurisdiction has its own declaration of drought emergency still in place. While these drought-related laws are no longer in force,...
Protection for Plastic Lawns

Protection for Plastic Lawns

California is in the fourth year of drought, and even with predictions of an approaching heavy “El Nino” rain season, it may take years before state water resources return to normal. The Legislature last year passed several laws requiring that associations let landscaping die during a declared drought emergency (Civil Code 4735(c)), permit drought tolerant landscaping of common interest development yards (Civil Code 4735(a)(1)) and not require pressure washing (Civil Code 4736). On September 5th, 2015, Governor Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 349 as an urgency measure, meaning that it becomes law immediately. After vetoes of artificial turf legislation in 2010 by then-Governor Schwarzenegger and again in 2011 by Governor Brown, drought concerns apparently have now overridden other expressed environmental concerns regarding degradation of plastic turf products. AB 349 expanded Civil Code 4735, and now, in addition to not banning drought-resistant landscaping, associations may not prohibit or impose conditions which ”have the effect of prohibiting the use of artificial turf or any other synthetic surface that resembles grass.” (Civil Code 4735(a)(2)). Does this mean associations must allow any green surface, or allow purple artificial turf (yes, it is available)? Hopefully homeowners and boards will be reasonable and agree that purple turf does not “resemble grass” as to color, just as a green painted concrete front yard does not “resemble grass” as to texture. Clearly, the law allows an association to pass reasonable specifications of approved artificial grass installations, so long as the restrictions are not so strict that they make the use of artificial grass impossible. Associations would be well advised to begin the process of adopting rules...

Tips for the Prospective Member

When buying a common interest property, you automatically become a member of an association. Here are a “baker’s dozen” of items to consider first: 1. Read the CC&Rs The document is a joint agreement between all the owners regarding the property, and it binds you when you become an owner – so read it before you take ownership. Look for restrictions regarding how you use your property – Are there pet limits? Can you park your RV in the driveway? Are there restrictions against hard floors (in multi-story buildings)? You will want to know that before you own. 2. Check the reserves disclosures Prudent associations set aside money each month to offset the ongoing deterioration of major capital components (roofs, asphalt, paint, etc). Associations with little money saved in reserves are more likely to impose special assessments against the members when major refurbishments are needed. Unfunded reserve accounts are a form of hidden debt not reflected on the balance sheet. 3. It isn’t about “me,” it’s about “us” Common interest communities are just that – communities. The HOA is not “them,” it’s “us”. 4. Most associations need professional managers In California, the common interest development (aka “HOA”) law is so complicated it is difficult to operate one without professional help. If the association has no professional manager, it is probably innocently violating many laws (and the board is probably working too hard as free managers of the community). 5. Board Members The board members are homeowners also, and they pay the same assessments you do. They volunteer their time to handle things you don’t have to worry about. If...

Legislation Update

The Legislature has been in high gear in the past month, and the legislative “season” is a few weeks from its end. Some bills affecting common interest developments (aka “HOA’s”) have already become law and a few are very likely to also pass in the coming weeks. AB 968 This is an innocuous bill, sponsored by the Executive Council of Home Owners (“ECHO”), which makes explicit what the mainstream legal community knew was implicit. Under current Civil Code 4775, associations maintain and repair common area, and homeowners maintain exclusive use common areas. The statute does not say who repairs exclusive use common areas. This “hole” in the statute has existed for many years but never was a problem, since most attorneys know that exclusive use is a subset of common area, and so the HOAs obviously would repair them. This bill would make the statute say that explicitly, and so changes nothing. If people say or write that this bill is a big deal, they are trying to panic you, or they don’t understand the law, or… both! This bill passed the Assembly and is now in the Senate and is expected to pass. Expect it to become law, and not to change anything. AB 2430 This bill, sponsored by the California Association of Realtors®, passed this year with little opposition, was signed by the Governor in July, and will take effect on January 1, 2015. This bill is directed toward the cost of HOA disclosure documents, often billed to the buyer, and primarily shifts the initial cost responsibility to the sellers. However, the seller still may negotiate and...