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.