synthetic grass debate among hoas

22 Mar 2018

The Synthetic Grass Debate Among HOAs

While the grass may not always be greener on the other side, these days it can be just as green. In fact, that’s what not only many residents in California are saying regarding the synthetic grass they’re installing on their properties, but also what both industry professionals and government officials are affirming regarding the quality, appearance, and environmental friendliness of today’s 21st century artificial grass.

So what’s the argument?

HOA’s are slowly being forced to see the light. In several gated, multi-million-dollar communities across California, HOAs have resisted their exclusive community’s homeowners rights to replace their natural lawns with synthetic ones. After all, HOAs do have the final word regarding not only what colors a home can be in their community, what alterations can be made to a home, and how, when, and where homeowners can park, but also in personal property landscaping choices. Naturally the HOAs feel their rules expand to include the type of grass a homeowner chooses. When repeatedly asked by homeowners for reasons why synthetic grass is such an issue, representatives from the HOAs can’t seem to pinpoint specific rationalizations beyond perceptions of artificial turf that date back decades. Fortunately for the homeowners, decades old perceptions belong to decades old grass. This new wave of artificial grass seems to be changing perceptions with a surprising realism and a compelling sustainability context.

The need is pretty convincing.

For starters, California has been in a drought for several years; with the state-wide dire need to conserve water, installing synthetic turf makes environmental sense. In fact, Governor Jerry Brown officially declared a water shortage emergency last year, urging homeowners to reduce their normal consumption of water by at least 20%. When some homeowners chose to stop watering their lawns to conserve water, HOAs charged them penalties. Some homeowners just don’t want brown lawns – or desert-scape styles for their California homes. As a result, Governor Brown signed bills last year stopping HOAs from fining the homeowners for opting not to regularly water their yards.

Synthetic grass can be a cost effective investment – an idea that seems to resonate with homeowners regardless of status.

Next, Lorena Gonzalez — a San Diego Democratic Assemblywoman — proposed a bill that would enable homeowners in neighborhoods with HOAs to replace their lawns with artificial turf without fear of financial retribution.

AB 349, proposed last year, marked the latest attempt by the California Legislature to restrict the authority of HOAs to prohibit artificial turf. AB 349 was proposed as an urgency statute based upon the following rationale of the California Legislature:

“While in the middle of a water shortage crisis, homeowner associations are not allowing homeowners to make voluntary sacrifices and are still forcing them to maintain grass lawns, by installing artificial grass, and are fining them if they are out of compliance. [AB 349] ensures that all homeowners have the right to better conserve water by voluntarily replacing grass with artificial grass. Property owners who pursue water conservation by installing artificial grass should be encouraged, not sued or fined. Thus, this act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety.”

The prolonged California drought has apparently led to a reversal in the Governor’s position on this issue and AB 349 was signed into law on September 4, 2015. As a result, Civil Code Section 4735 has been amended to render void and unenforceable any provision of a HOA’s governing documents (i.e., a HOA’s architectural standards) that “prohibits, or includes conditions that have the effect of prohibiting, the use of artificial turf or any other synthetic surface that resembles grass.” (Civ. Code § 4735(a)(2).)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly to the HOAs, today’s high-quality synthetic grass products do look just as real as natural grass. In fact, while simply driving through a community it is difficult for you to tell which lawns are using water and which don’t require any. You have to physically touch the lawn to tell the difference.

While any of these points alone provide a solid rebuttal to the HOA’s protests, these five reasons combined make the entire debate moot. From being environmentally-friendly and conservation-centric, to adding curb appeal to a property and being cost-effective, synthetic grass will undoubtedly be the norm, not only in upscale, gated California communities, but more generally across the United States where homeowners care about their environment as much as their property value.

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