Each year many owners want their beautification efforts to extend beyond their private yards. Without a gardening policy for common areas, an HOA is likely to experience one of two undesirable outcomes. The HOA board has to take on the time-consuming task of approving plantings on a case-by-case basis. Since there's no policy, the board runs the risk that owners will complain decisions are arbitrary. The other possibility in the absence of a policy is owners will plant whatever they desire in common areas. Then disputes arise among neighbors. What one owner considers beautiful is seen as an eyesore by another. Clearly, every HOA needs a gardening policy for common areas.
Considerations for Your Policy
An HOA may choose to ban owners from planting in common areas. While that is a legitimate option, each HOA has to decide if an outright prohibition is consistent with the environment it's trying to cultivate in its community. A ban may send an unintended message that this is just a place to live rather than a community.
To give your owners adequate guidance, the gardening policy needs to be explicit on what can or cannot be planted in common areas. The HOA may decide on a few general guidelines such as:
- Forbidding the planting of trees, shrubs, or edible plants
- Only allowing plants that grow to a certain height
- Restricting plantings to annuals
- The community will remove plants that aren't being cared for
- The community removes all plants at the end of the growing season
However, the HOA may want extremely specific regulations to maintain the look of the community. For instance, a gardening policy may list permitted annuals and perennials. Some policies indicate what color plants are allowed.
All policies should include a section on enforcement. A common way to enforce violations is to fine the homeowner for what it costs the HOA to repair the damage his or her policy violation has caused. Being specific can avoid future misunderstandings and complaints of arbitrary enforcement. For example, if a homeowner will be fined for the replacement of the entire weed barrier for breaking it by planting in a prohibited area, the policy should say so.
Communicating Your Policy to Owners
Naturally, the HOA board will communicate a new gardening policy for common areas the same way it communicates any amendment to the conditions, covenants, and restrictions. Although the owners are responsible for knowing the policy after the initial communication, the HOA board may want to send a reminder to owners each year in early spring. A reminder eliminates ignorance as an excuse for noncompliance.
Consistent Enforcement is Essential
Consistent enforcement is critical to its success of any policy. One HOA discovered this truth the hard way. When the board implemented an enforcement action against an owner for violating the gardening policy, the owner protested about being singled out while other violations were not being addressed. The owner was correct. As a result, the board held a special meeting to review policies and to decide how to resolve the issue. The resolution was to send all owners a letter to apologize for the absence of enforcement and state an expectation for everyone to get in compliance. One neighbor said she had verbal approval from a board member for her non-compliant ground cover. She then threatened to withdraw her substantial assistance to other community efforts if she wasn't given an exception. The bottom line is inconsistent enforcement creates ill-will among neighbors. Other HOAs also can learn from this drama that consistent enforcement can prevent extra work and grief for the board.
An HOA that needs assistance in creating and enforcing policies for any issue should consider GrandManors. Contact us today to learn how our experienced professionals can help your HOA operate smoothly.