People who live in condomiums, townhomes, or homes in other developments governed by a homeowners' association know that they have to abide by the community's internal rules and regulations. These are frequently set out in a document known as the declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs), and cover everything from what color curtains one can put up to whether one can have a dog, fly a flag, or park a boat in one's driveway.
For homes that come with land around them, the CC&Rs are likely to contain limitations on landscaping, such as what one may plant, and to what standards one's yard must be maintained. The initial landscaping is usually put into place by the developer, and often includes an expanse of grass (turf).
But what happens when a drought hits, as it did last year? (El Nino seems to be reversing the trend for now, but who knows what coming years will bring?)
Anyone who watches the headlines at all knows that lawn turf is a thirsty consumer of water. Organizations such as the California Native Plant Society have come up with creative options to get rid of lawns, such as herbal lawns, hardscape, synthetic turf, and so on. And Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order that, among other things, directed the Department of Water Resources to lead a statewide initiative to replace 50 million square feet of lawns and ornamental turf with drought tolerant landscapes, and prohibited irrigating with potable water outside of newly constructed homes and buildings, unless by drip or microspray systems.
Attempting to implement any of these options or measures might conflict with your HOA's rules, however. And this could lead to disputes, fines, and further enforcement.
To protect homeowners, one of the many laws that Governor Jerry Brown signed during 2015 was AB-349, which amends California's Davis Stirling Act.
This new law makes void and unenforceable any provision of a community association's governing documents or architectural or landscaping guidelines or policies that prohibits use of artificial turf or any other synthetic surface that resembles grass. The law also prohibits any HOA requirements that homeowners remove or reverse water-efficient landscaping measures installed in response to a declaration of a state of emergency once the state of emergency has ended.
Californians should also know that existing law doesn't allow HOA rules prohibiting use of low water-using plants, or prohibiting or restricting compliance with water-efficient landscape ordinances or regulations on water use. Also, existing California law prohibits HOAs from imposing a fine or assessment on home or unit owners who reduce or eliminate watering of vegetation or lawns during periods when a state of emergency due to drought has been declared by the state or local government. (See California Civil Code §4735, Low Water-Using Plants and Artificial Turf.)