Question: I am on the Beautification Committee of our Homeowners Association. We take pride in our neighborhood but one of our homeowners who calls herself a master gardener refuses to have a St. Augustine grass lawn like everyone else. Her yard is covered with jasmine and dwarf chenille ground cover. She never needs to water. Do we have any legal protection to force her to make her yard look like ours? Don't our document and rules apply?
Answer: Your neighbor has designed her lawn to feature Florida native and Florida-friendly plants because they don't need fertilizers, watering or much maintenance.
The law actually supports homeowners like your neighbor who want to convert thirsty lawn grass to plants that are friendlier to the environment. It supports them even if they live in communities with covenants and restrictions where it's expected that they have grass lawns that are regularly mowed, edged and weeded.
The law is called the Water Rights Bill because lawn and landscape irrigation uses a tremendous amount of water, seriously impacting Florida's aquifer. The aquifer provides the state's drinking water and feeds its springs and other ecosystems.
The law encourages the nine basic principles of Florida-friendly landscaping, which are: use the right plant in the right place, water efficiently, fertilize appropriately, mulch, attract wildlife, manage yard pets responsibly, recycle, reduce storm water runoff and protect the waterfront.
Any landscape that follows Florida Yards and Neighborhood Guidelines promoting the nine principles supersedes and takes precedence over all other municipal, county and homeowner association rules, ordinance or laws, because "the use of Florida-friendly landscaping and other water use and pollution prevention measures to conserve or protect the state's water resources serves a compelling public interest." Your neighbor is certainly aware of this if she has a master gardener designation because this means she has graduated from a course of study conducted by the University of Florida through its cooperative extension program.
Even with this law, homeowners encounter problems if they don't stay within the general landscape theme of their community. Right plant, right place means there are a number of alternatives to St. Augustine grass, including a variety of grasses or ground covers. The law's intent is to encourage Florida-friendly landscaping principles. It does not mandate them.
Attorney Sylvia Heldreth is a certified specialist in real estate law. Her office is located at 1215 Miramar St., in Cape Coral.
This article is not intended as specific legal advice to anyone and is based upon facts that change form time to time. Individuals should seek legal counsel before acting upon any matter involving the law.