In 2009 the Florida Legislature enacted revisions to Fla. Stat. 720.3075(4), which prohibits homeowner associations from enforcing deed restrictions as to prohibit the implementation of Florida Friendly Landscaping. This language is recited again in Fla. Stat. 373.185, which is the initiative for Florida Friendly Landscaping as a means to reduce water consumption and prevent further pollution of the environment with pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
Prior to the enactment of the 2009 revisions, the same statute prohibited such conduct if the association's documents were recorded after October 1, 2001, but with increasing water shortages and the State of Florida considering importing water from other states, the Florida Legislature found greater protections were necessary as a matter of public policy.
Seems clear, right? It is if your a homeowner, but associations and their attorneys have a different idea. The right of the association to require an application to the architectural review board or committee (ARB or ARC) still exists, although many homeowners do not realize this. Why? Because it doesn't make sense. Technically, the association cannot deny your application unless it does not comply to Florida Friendly principles and I have yet to meet a board of directors with the qualifications to make such a determination. But rules and rules and owners need to submit applications.
What happens next though defies all reason. Of course, I have never heard anyone brag about their board members being reasonable.
The owner implements FFL with or without an application and the association starts sending those nasty violation letters. Don't get me started on those. Do they really need to be so nasty? Do the associations really think the tone of the letter is going to result in the homeowner responding with an apology and a promise to follow the dictatorship of the association?
What reasons do the associations give for violating the FFL yards? I have heard everything from the association has the right to regulate FFL to the declarations require St. Augustine and state law cannot invalidate the Declarations. I was recently told a client could maintain a nice St. Augustine or Zoysiagrass lawn if the client would just pay a lawn service a monthly fee. Really? Apply chemicals monthly? Isn't this not the exact thing FFL tries to avoid? MORE CHEMICALS????
I have heard over and over St. Augustine is FFL. That is true in some areas of Florida, mostly coastal regions, but FFL is not about any one plant, grass, shrub, tree or groundcover being FFL no matter where the lot is located in Florida.
FFL is about the right plant in the right place for the site conditions. It is about soil composition, soil pH, drainage, light, temperature, pests and even residual chemicals in the soil. To argue my point, I have two plants which are exactly the same and were purchased at the same time from the same store. One plant was installed on one side of my backyard and the other on the other side. One plant is now about 25' high and the other is still the same size as it was when I bought it 15 years ago. The site conditions are obviously different on the same lot 60 feet or so apart.
To recap, we have a law with a clear initiative to reduce water consumption and the application of chemicals to our environment. We have a clear law allowing homeowners the right to protect the environment by implementing FFL without interference from homeowner associations. We have volumes of material available online educating the citizens of Florida regarding FFL and the nine principles. It's obvious from the materials it takes a lot of work and money to implement FFL and a good understanding of horticultural principles to obtain a fair understanding of FFL. It is clear board members, who are unpaid volunteers giving up their time to help manage the community, are not generally knowledgeable enough to make a determination of what is or is not FFL. Anyone besides me see the problem here?
What Florida homeowners need are some elected officials to push for an agency to provide a neutral party to certify yards as FFL. Until we have this the associations will continue to violate homeowners and even impose fines, which can result in liens and foreclosure if unpaid. The associations have an unfair advantage in litigating these disputes because homeowners have no agency regulating homeowner associations and cannot afford the costly litigation. The associations see this and engage in disputes they would normally lose because they know they will win purely as a matter of economics. They have a license to be the bully of the neighborhood.
I encourage those associations who support FFL, or do not approve of the bully mentality as a way to rule the neighborhood, to step up and adopt FFL guidelines, obtain and understand the materials, and let your members know you support FFL. Don't end up being labeled a "bad" HOA.