What Rights Does an Owner Have When the Board Plans to Modify Landscaping?

The basic question I received from a homeowner relates to what rights an owner has when the board establishes a plan with regard to landscaping, which is happening more and more because of the drought. HOAs are living in fear these days because of water surcharges for excess water use –or even well-controlled water use that does not meet the decrease goals required by the cities and counties. The current laws, in fact, do not favor HOAs that have taken serious steps to decrease water use over the past few years. Some do not have much room to cut back. The same is true with some individuals. However, money is a continuing  factor and boards are struggling with the idea of staying “green”. There is the tug of war over letting lawns and landscaping die to preserve water. Legislatively, bills are being introduced to prevent HOAs from fining owners who turn off the water on their lawns, while at the same time seemingly encouraging home gardening in the same lawns. It’s tough! So here is a specific question from a reader:

“Is There A Time Frame For An HOA Board To Send A Notice To Modify Landscaping?

A homeowner requested that dead ivy be removed and/or covered with mulch and that the shrubs be left in place behind their building.  There is another building whose side faces the back of the first building.  On August 15, the homeowners of the 2 buildings received written notification that the ivy as well as any plantings would be removed since the irrigation would be capped of and that new plantings would take replace after the “drought is over.”   A notice was also put in the newsletter sent with the dues billing.  Some of the owners immediately responded requesting that the plants not be removed because of safety and security concerns (it would be open to foot traffic) and that replacing already established drought tolerant plants with new ones at a later time was a waste of association money.  The ivy and plants were removed on August 28, almost 2 weeks later.

Is there a 30 day time period between notice and action?”

The easy answer to this question is that there is no timeframe required by the Davis-Stirling Act for this kind of notice. Of course, some boards feel that the more notice –the more likely of organized pushback. If an owner wanted to contact other owners he or she could get a list, or get an opportunity to communicate with other owners if there was time for this. However, it would not be necessary if the board fully vetted this idea with members before adopting a plan and the majority of owners understood the reasons.

Sometimes boards simply tie timing of the work to the landscapers’ availability and don’t even imagine this will create an issue.

It sounds like in this situation, owners did get notice in the monthly billing, in a form they would be likely to read, and the board was apprised of their concerns.

That said, I, too, would be concerned if shrubs were being removed that provided some protection for residents, especially if they were drought-tolerant plants. If there is any crime or more disturbing foot traffic, the board will certainly hear about it and could be held responsible for the decision to remove the shrubbery, whether it or not it is “right”.

But to be fair, water is the biggest concern for many HOAs in California. Sometimes hard choices need to be made. In any event, it sounds like at this stage it is too late to depend on having plants in the areas complained of replaced, any time soon.

So owners may want to suggest other means of security to the board, such as extra lighting (although not to the level of a nuisance) in the barren areas.


And everyone may have to bite the bullet as “going green” means “going brown”.

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2 Responses to What Rights Does an Owner Have When the Board Plans to Modify Landscaping?
  1. Pat
    September 15, 2014 | 6:40 pm

    We have ivy fields behind 9 buildings and only 1 one area out of 9 is capped off and they water 6 days a week. Does that seem odd or does one bite the bullet because of the drought?

    • Beth Grimm
      October 23, 2014 | 7:18 pm

      If you are unhappy about the watering you might contact the City to inspect. Doesn’t make a lot of sense without understanding why.