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Sustainable Landscape Practices

Policy

Community Associations Institute (CAI) supports the ability for communities to establish rules that govern landscaping practices for common areas and exclusive use property. CAI supports communities adopting best practices recommended for sustainable landscaping and encourages association boards to fairly evaluate homeowners' requests to convert to or utilize sustainable landscaping on their exclusive use property while protecting an association's assets.

Best practices for sustainable landscaping include, but are not limited to:

    • Minimizing the use of finite natural resources, especially potable water
    • Avoiding the introduction of non-native, invasive plants
    • Using plants compatible with the native flora and fauna of an area
    • Reducing erosion, pollution, wildfire danger, and other potential adverse effects
    • Incorporating aesthetic components that maintain or increase property values
    • Utilizing reclaimed and tertiary water for alternative irrigation

About the Community Association Housing Model

While community associations come in many forms and sizes, all associations share three basic characteristics: (1) membership in the association is mandatory and automatic for all property owners; (2) certain legal documents bind all owners to defined land-use requirements administered by the community association; and (3) all property owners pay mandatory lien-based assessments that fund association operations.

The community association housing model is actively supported by local government as it permits the transfer of many municipal costs to the association and homeowners. Today, many community associations deliver services that once were the exclusive province of local government usually funded by government-levied property taxes.

Community associations are governed by a board of directors or trustees comprised of owners and residents elected by their neighbors. This board guides the association in providing governance and other critical services for the community.

Background

Well maintained, attractive landscaping and a pleasant environment are essential to the quality of life in any community.  Aesthetics is a key component in the desirability of a neighborhood and the value of its individual homes.

Conserving fresh, clean water is important.  The United States Geological Survey reports roughly one-third of all water in the U.S. goes to irrigation and landscaping.  Homeowners and communities can reduce water use significantly by adopting sustainable landscaping practices that reduce water consumption and the demands on public or private water supplies. 

Community association boards are responsible for effectively communicating the community's landscaping covenants that the residents are responsible for maintaining.

See CAI's Public Policy on Conservation, Sustainability, and Green Issues for more background.

Recommendation

CAI supports legislation that recognizes the core principle of self-governance and co-ownership of common property of the community association housing model.  CAI supports legislation that permits the association to enact reasonable rules and regulations concerning landscaping requirements.

Community associations must maintain the ability to impose a monetary penalty for noncompliance with landscaping covenants; however, the associations should refrain from imposing penalties on owners for failing to water during a government-declared drought.  Water-use policies should focus on proven ways to reduce the need for watering landscaping, while maintaining the level of aesthetics valued by the community.

Further, community associations should not adopt rules explicitly prohibiting xeriscaping or the use of drought-tolerant vegetative landscapes. Association guidelines should provide an accessible means for owners to seek landscaping variances and committees or boards are encouraged to approve common sense requests that also maintain aesthetic standards. Covenants should also provide for adjustment during times of drought and protect homeowners who implement sustainable practices from adverse policy changes.

Sustainable landscaping practices are encouraged. Especially in geographic areas with desert-like topography or prone to drought, community associations are encouraged to evaluate the amount of water used to sustain the landscaping.  Associations, boards and managers should use this review to develop guidelines for maintaining the community's common areas, and to guide individual property owners in their landscaping choices that benefit the association's responsibility to enhance property values. Guidelines should encourage the use of indigenous plant species, alternative water sources, including reclaimed and tertiary water, when available.

Policy History

Approved by the Government & Public Affairs Committee April 23, 2019

Adopted by the Board of Trustees May 15, 2019

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