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California Water Restrictions Conflict with Homeowners’ Association Rules Regarding Lawns

14483258916_9c251023c2_z.jpgCalifornia Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency in January 2014 because of a severe drought that has persisted for several years. Since then, the state government has mandated widespread restrictions on water use, including restrictions on the ability of local governments and homeowners’ associations (HOAs), during emergency drought conditions, to enforce rules requiring residents to water their lawns. These water conservation efforts, however, continue to come into conflict with some HOAs around the state.

Governor Brown signed AB 2104 into law in September 2014. The bill amends the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (DSCIDA), the main law governing California HOAs, to restrict the enforcement of certain regulations during a state of emergency, as declared by the governor or a local government, related to drought. HOAs may not penalize their members “for reducing or eliminating the watering of vegetation or lawns.” Cal. Civ. Code ยง 4735. The bill responded to several situations in which HOAs imposed fines or assessments against residents who were responding to Governor Brown’s calls for water conservation.

In April 2015, Governor Brown issued Executive Order B-29-15 (PDF file), which instituted a wide range of water-saving measures. The order directs the State Water Resources Control Board to implement restrictions with a goal of a 25 percent reduction “in potable urban water usage” across the state by February 2016. It directs the Department of Water Resources to lead an effort “to collectively replace 50 million square feet of lawns and ornamental turf with drought tolerant landscapes.” Among many other provisions of the executive order are a ban on watering grass in public street medians and increased use of water-saving technologies.

The governor signed AB 1 into law in mid-July 2015. This bill adds a section to the California Government Code’s article related to states of emergency. During a drought-related state of emergency, city and county governments would be prohibited from assessing fines for violations of ordinances requiring residents to water their lawns.

Some HOAs have continued to enforce lawn-related regulations or have taken actions that seem to conflict with efforts to save water. A resident of a development in Santa Clarita, for example, recently presented a landscaping plan, which replaced his lawn with drought-tolerant plants, to his HOA for approval. The HOA reportedly rejected the plan because the guidelines require turf for “at least 25 percent of the plantable material in the front yard.”

A homeowner in Agoura Hills installed artificial turf on his property in exchange for a rebate from the local water district, but he then found himself facing fines of $50 per day and a lawsuit from his HOA. The issue, according to the HOA, is not the artificial turf itself, but the alleged failure to obtain the HOA’s approval before installing the turf. The homeowner has stated that he is waiting for a pending bill in the Legislature to become law. That bill, AB 349, would amend the DSCIDA to prohibit HOAs from penalizing homeowners who install “water-efficient landscaping measures,” such as artificial turf, during a drought-related state of emergency. The Assembly passed the bill in May 2015, and a Senate committee approved it in mid-July.

If you or your business is involved in a legal dispute, you should consult with a skilled real estate attorney in order to determine the best course of action to assert your rights and protect your interests. James G. Schwartz has represented Bay Area businesses in a wide range of legal matters for nearly 40 years. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (925) 463-1073.

More Blog Posts:

New California Law Prohibits Homeowner Associations from Penalizing Homeowners Who Do Not Water Their Lawns During Droughts, Pleasanton Business & Commercial Law Blog, September 30, 2014

Homeowner Association Law Update – Recent Court Decision and Changes to Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act, Pleasanton Business & Commercial Law Blog, November 27, 2013

City of Richmond’s Plan to Seize Underwater Mortgages Stays Alive After San Francisco Judge Dismisses Banks’ Lawsuit, Pleasanton Business & Commercial Law Blog, September 16, 2013

Photo credit: Kevin Cortopassi [CC BY-ND 2.0], via Flickr.