HOAs and the Environment

Those who follow my Twitter feed might have seen that we received a snarky letter from our HOA here at Bayport in Alameda this week complaining about our front lawn. The complaint itself was not specific (it said something along the lines of the lawn needing “weeding, edging, mowing and/or fertilizing”).

Now, my opinion of HOAs in general is pretty low (and of the particular management company used here, Vierra Moore, even lower), since most of what I have seen from them has been silly time wasting nonsense. At our expense since our monthly dues pay for these time wasters. To highlight just how much nonsense Vierra Moore believes in, one of last year’s “straw polls” for potential new rules they could impose on residents included whether home owners should be allowed to fly flags, and if so what sizes and types of flag. Pathetic people. Learn how to live and let live. Let’s take away all the rules that are not ensuring safety and deal with it.

But, complaints about lawn condition have a much larger implication. By requiring that lawns be kept ‘green’ they are essentially requiring a massive, and unacceptable, waste of water. And the houses here in Bayport do not include grey water systems (a shame in newly built homes). Currently water is a precious resource here in northern California, with a serious drought entering its third year now. Why are we wasting it watering grass?

Unusually for me, I honestly think there needs to be a change in the law to prevent HOAs from requiring their members to run irrigation at all. If grass can’t survive naturally in the climate, then it is simply the wrong thing to plant. That said, even when it is burnt badly in hot summers, it usually comes back unaided when the rain returns in the winter months (as the many un-irrigated hillsides in the bay area demonstrate every year). Of course, it doesn’t look green all summer, but really people, is having a green lawn more important than having water to drink? Perhaps this year we can make brown the new green.

I do think it is time that cities and/or states stepped in here to prevent these pathetic, bullying organisations from being able to require their “members” to waste precious resources. So, I am going to be sending this post to a number of places, including local and state politicians, to see if anything can be done to knock some common sense into these HOA management company bullies.

6 thoughts on “HOAs and the Environment

  1. Yea, HOAs are questionable at best. Interesting points. Here ours has strange rules about fence heights and leashed dogs in remote areas. I won’t bore you with those details, but they seem to occupy bored retirees time more than anything.

  2. Even as a director of an HOA I’m with you on this one but everyone should realize that most of the rules that are there are to help HOAs intervene when there is a real quality of life issue “Live and let live” and “peaceful enjoyment” are the usual overriding principles of HOA living – people who can’t abide by that shouldn’t be in an HOA, but very few people realize that’s how HOAs work before they get into them.

    However there are often petty rules that make no sense, or are written or enforced to the extreme such that 90% of the time they are just a pain in the a** to everyone. Fortunately State and Federal government are striking down HOA’s ability to regulate owners in that way all the time and more and more they are siding with your ability to be environmentally friendly e.g. putting up solar panels. The latest sticking point is rules that prohibit hanging out laundry – that one hasn’t been struck down yet, but I’ve read many stories that make it sound like it will. But maybe you have an even better example. I would certainly contact Arnold, Senator Boxer (I have connections to her son who is on Oakland Planning Commission), the Sierra Club, and you could write some content to put on some green blogs. You could also get the local rags interested – East Bay Express would probably write a story. Plus you should talk to EBMUD and tell them the HOA is impugning your ability to cut back water consumption.

    So what does the HOA say if you dig up the lawn completely and put rocks in its place? Or if the house was repossessed and sat empty – would they come out and paint the dirt green like some places are doing?

  3. I think HOAs for non-shared building living are quite a different animal from the one I’m in. They establish what is effectively a gated community, whether it is gated or not and as I mentioned, few people pay much attention to the giant CC&Rs and Rules and Regulations they normally maintain. When you live in one HOAs are actually your closest connection to external “government” people experience, and yet the people who end up running them are usually elected with the least thought. My advice to anyone living in an HOA is get elected and protect your property. It’s a responsibility to take on, but my building has benefited hugely from a sane and stable HOA board over the last 8 years, and we very, very seldom have to “throw the book” at people – a luxury that many buildings don’t have, quite often because of their size. At 24 units I think its about perfect – much beyond 50 and I think you’re generally SOL – so a big housing development like yours is gonna be a problem…

    The drought issue should be strongly in your favor – I reckon you’d have everyone from the City of Alameda to the State and now federal government on your side if you wanted to rip up that lawn and escalate…

  4. We actually did read through them all, and the problem is not so much the rules that were there, but the degree to which they use common sense when enforcing them. Like many of these things, the rules are not so precise (for example, the lawn cutting rules simply state that the lawn will be maintained). That said, the more recent rules they have been sending out these straw polls for have reached the point of the ridiculous – they are clearly overstepping the mark now and going from rules that one can see might be needed in extreme cases, to ones, like the flag flying rule, that are just plain pathetic (although there are federal laws preventing HOAs from blocking some flag flying).

    I think the problems really start when a management company is used to enforce the rules. Rather than using the rules as a way to deal with extreme cases, where other approaches have failed, they seem to jump right in with quoting the rule book. And they’re also right up there trying to make up new, and ever more petty rules that they can enforce. (Maybe they get paid for each enforcement letter!)

    The watering issue is an interesting one, and I am definitely going to be probing them to see what their reaction would be to leaving the grass without irrigation this summer in order to conserve water.

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