Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Landscaping and the Home Owner's Association

Echinacea/Purple Cone Flower

Warning, this post is a major rant and will probably be quite lengthy. Kudos to those of you who take the time to read this one.

First of all, I want to say that Noblesville is a wonderful community and a great place to raise a family. For the most part, I love my neighborhood and I have many wonderful neighbors. I also have enjoyed my home even though I despise the location, which is right beside the neighborhood common/playground area.

Unfortunately though, my home is in a neighborhood with covenant restrictions and a Home Owner's Association, (hereafter referred to as HOA), to enforce those restrictions. My rant today is not about covenant restrictions in general but the absurdity of one rule in particular. Those of you who are serious gardeners will easily understand my frustrations with this issue.

The Covenant Restrictions Document states:
(i) Generally, No dwelling, building structure or improvement of any type or kind shall be constructed or placed on any lot in the Development without the prior approval of the Committee, except for original home construction by a builder who has entered into a contract with the Developer to purchase lots. Such approval shall be obtained only after written application has been made to the Committee by the owner of lot requesting authorization from the Committee. Such written application shall be in the manner and form prescribed from time to time by the Committee, and shall be accompanied by two (2) complete sets of plans and specifications for any such proposed construction or improvement. Such plans shall include plot plans showing the location of all improvements existing upon the lot and the location of the improvement proposed to be constructed or placed upon the lot, each properly and clearly designated. Such plans and specifications shall set forth the color and composition of all exterior materials proposed to be used and any proposed landscaping, together with any other materials or information which the Committee may require. All building plans and drawings required to be submitted to the Committee shall, be drawn to a scale of 1/4" = 1' and all plot plans shall be drawn to scale of 1" = 30', or to such other scale as the Committee shall require. There shall also be submitted, where applicable, the permits or reports required under Paragraph 3 of these

For most people this restriction would be difficult to fully understand and there's obviously a lot here that is left open to interpretation. I'm only going to focus, (or rather rant), on the landscaping part of this restriction. I'm am officially dragging out the soapbox now and climbing on.

Somehow, in the beginning stages of our neighborhood HOA, someone decided that this restriction was to include all landscaping and it was interpreted to mean that all plants over eighteen inches tall had to be approved by the Architectural Committee. Let me repeat that for those of you who might at this point be dumbfounded. Any perennial or permanent plant added to a homeowner's property, that is over eighteen inches tall, has to be drawn to scale and submitted to the Arch Committee for approval, which can take thirty days or longer to get said approval. (At this point in my rant, I'm purposefully refraining from making any comments regarding anyone's intelligence, since I really do like these people.)

Now, I don't have to tell you garden bloggers how absurd this is. You're probably already thinking about the many ways this would seriously limit your creativity in your garden. Not to mention those impulse buys at the garden centers when you spot a great must have plant, especially if it's on sale.

Can you imagine, you're at your favorite nursery and they have that gorgeous 'Diana, Princess of Wales' rose bush that you have coveted ever since Kylee from Our Little Acre posted about hers, and it's on sale for a song. What to do? They'll all be gone before you get approval from the Arch Committee, and it really needs to be planted right away since it's at the end of the season, and where are you even going to put it? You're going to have to move some things around because you really want more than one. Oh, no! Will they even approve it? Your yard is already so crowded with plants that some of your neighbors are already beginning to talk about you and your gardening obsession. Hmm...you think to yourself, since they are bare root roses that are only fifteen inches tall right now, you won't have to get them approved, or will you? So you throw caution to the wind and buy several bare root 'Diana, Princess of Wales' rose bushes, take them home and move several things around to make room for your new roses. Now, because you're a good citizen and want to be a good neighbor, you have to get that Architectural Review Form, and draw to scale the changes you made in your landscape, (when you can't even draw stick people), and submit it for approval, (all the while knowing that according to the restrictions this should have been done before buying a single thing). Now you hold your breath hoping that your next door neighbor, (who heads up the Arch Committee, and who looks at you a little funny now, ever since he saw you army crawling around on the ground with your camera in your hand), approves your new roses and landscaping changes.

Here is another scenario. Let's say you planted a single Echinacea last year and you didn't cut it back after it bloomed since the finches love the seed heads. Now this year you have ten new Echinaceas growing that you didn't even plant, not to mention the Verbena bonariensis that is sprouting up everywhere. All of a sudden you remember that every new plant over eighteen inches tall has to be submitted to the Arch Committee for approval. Remembering your embarrassment and frustration with getting approval for your roses, you quickly weed out the new plants because it is just too much trouble to draw everything to scale and submit it, especially when you didn't even plant the stupid things to begin with.

O.K. those two scenarios are embellished, but here's a situation that actually happened a few years back. One neighbor was approached by the HOA president and he told her that she couldn't have that tree growing in her yard, that it hadn't been approved. She told him that she didn't plant it, it grew all by itself. Imagine that! Plants having the audacity to grow in our neighborhood without approval!

I just can't imagine anyone not seeing the absurdity in this rule.

Let me stop now to say that this rant actually has a purpose. You see, I'm now serving on the dreaded and much hated HOA board, which just last month combined with the Arch committee. I want to see this absurd rule changed. In fact that is one of my passionate goals during my three year term. I'm already getting resistance from some, but I am not one to back down easily.

This rule is not the restriction, it is someone's interpretation of the restriction and that can easily be changed by the HOA board.

I'm gathering information and doing research so that I can be well equipped and armed to get this silly rule changed. I'd love it if you all could give me your insight on this. What would you do if your HOA, (if you had one), operated with this kind of rule.

Oh, and be nice in your comments please.


Carol said...

Where to start? First, that is an insane interpretation of the covenants and makes no sense at all. I'm sure reasonable people would agree. I would get that changed as soon as I could.

In my neighborhood, the HOA decided to "interpret" the fence part of the covenants very narrowly, ruling out anyone else putting up a privacy fence like I have. I think they are power tripping!

Good luck!
Carol, May Dreams Gardens

ginger said...

We have the same rule, and I hate it. I submitted a landscaping plan that we haven't really followed, except in regards to the trees we planted, although I would like to plant a lot more. And we planted the trees before submitting the plan, because we didn't realize ahead of time that we had to get the backyard approved.

We ripped out most of our front plants, and put in much nicer looking ones. No one has said anything as of yet... hopefully they never will.

I completely agree with you that it is a lame-o rule (I don't swear, but if I did, this would be the time!) I think one should only have to get trees approved, since they could possibly become a nuisance to neighbors if planted in a bad spot.

Molly said...

I am an HOA's worst nightmare, which is why when we were househunting we backed away from several lovely, affordably priced houses that had restrictive covenants attached to them, and moved into a fixer-upper set well back from the road on a derelict piece of property. Our remodeled house is painted in sunset colors (ie, purple and orange), chickens and ducks wander freely, I hang my clothes outside to dry, and I plant what I wish without asking anyone.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

This only makes me realize that living in an older neighborhood has its benefits...one of the major ones is no Home Owners Association and no Covenants.

Good luck girl.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Carol, I think in the past ours has been a power play too. Hopefully with this new group things will change.

Ginger, I can't believe there is another development out there with this same interpretation. I thought surely we must be the only one to go to this extreme.

Molly, I'd love to be out in the country. I'd love to have a compost pile and have the room to plant whatever I wanted.

Lisa, lucky you, (in more way than one). I love older neighborhoods with mature trees. A brand new house is nice but it certainly is a big trade-off.

vonlafin said...

I can't imagine living like that! I have never, and hope I never have to live in a neighborhood with these kind of rules. Good Luck!

jodi said...

Oh my god!!! WHERE do these associations and these covenants COME from??? First of all, that was a fine, articulate rant, and not long at all. Second, good for you for getting on the association and working to make positive changes. This is purely insane. I don't know if such absurd covenants exist in subdivisions in Nova Scotia (I must find out) but thankfully I will never, EVER have to deal with such things. Being a reclusive writer who MUST leave in the country and by the sea has its definite advantages.

You have my support too. I'm sure that this can be changed, given some intelligent people like you. I'll be rooting for you across the miles!

Pam/Digging said...

I'm rooting for you too, Robin. That's a crazy, power-trip rule. You're doing the right thing to get on the board and try to change it from the inside. Good luck!

Melinda said...

Robin, first off I'm not someone who would be able to deal with an HOA. So I don't live in an area that has one and never will. But I have done a fair amount of research about them.

Isn't the main purpose of the Association to preserve property values? Therefore, this rule seems to be originally written to preserve the integrity and aesthetic value of the neighborhood. How could ANYONE argue that a rose bush, for instance, is detrimental to the aesthetics of the community?

The property values will go up in an area that has mature, beautiful landscaping. This narrow interpretation of the rule only goes against the whole purpose of the HOA, as it deters people from making positive aesthetic changes to their landscaping.

Am I right? : )

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Vonlafin, this has been my first experience with it, and believe me, we will never do this again either.

Thank you, Jodi. Actually it is the developer who draws up the Covenant Restrictions. Of course, the builder, who sales the homes, isn't very forthcoming with restrictions. We had never had them before and had no idea what we were getting into.

Thank you, Pam. You're right, it has been a power-trip rule.

Melinda, you're exactly right. The purpose of the HOA is to preserve the property values. When you live in such close proximity to your neighbors rules are absolutely necessary. However, these cross the line of what is reasonable. You are also right, in that this rule actually deters people from beautifying their property, which in turns decreases property values. Thanks for the input.

Layanee said...

Have they ever enforced this rule and what is the penalty? Maybe I missed that in the jargon of the restriction. I would pretend I didn't know the rule existed and get a ruler with my own measurements on it. Good for you for getting on the committee to make changes to the laws. I'm rooting for you!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

According to a plain reading of the covenant, landcaping approval is required ONLY in connection with the installation of structures. There does not appear to be anything in the covenant that requires prior approval to the installation of any plant over 18" tall. Now, I'm not licensed to practice law in Indiana, but here in Illinois, such restrictive covenants must be read narrowly. I know you don't want to sue the HOA, but it might be a good idea to consult an attorney about this covenant and, if it is as I interpret it, a memorandum to that effect from your attorney could go a long way toward resolving your problem without litigation. I hope that helps. I just want to add that I never have, nor ever will, purchase a home in a Home Owner's assocation because of some of the truly absurd restrictions they can legally impose. (I'm sorry, but you can't paint your house blue because your next-door neighbor's house is already blue.) Good luck!

Dan in Fishers said...

Hello Robin.
We must have the same developer as my covenants have something very similar.

I am also on the Board of our HOA. Technically, any "improvement" needs prior approval with an improvement being any change that improves or makes better. Landscaping would fall into this category. However, but we have taken a common sense approach. We don't require approval unless a major change is being done to the landscaping and we have only had a few instances of this (which were approved as submitted).

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Robin, I have no ideas for you... but I am feeling lucky that our "convenant" wasn't upheld much at my old house, and that I don't have one here. I wish you the best of luck on this one!

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Layanee, enforcement is one of the problems. It all depends on who is president of the HOA. We've had years where every little detail is enforced and some years where very little is. I would like to see consistency in the the restrictions. To me it makes no sense to have a rule that absolutely cannot be regulated or enforced. Right now no one has the time, energy or concern enough to care about enforcing it but yet they still say it has to be approved.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter, thank you for your suggestion. I have asked to be shown where the 18 inch rule is written but I'm getting the run around. I will keep pushing the issue. It is an interpretation plain and simple. Interpretations can be changed.

Dan, that is funny that you are also on an HOA board. Probably is the same developer as I've checked the websites of other developments to read their Covenant Restrictions and they are all pretty much the same.

I do know from reading through the minutes of other developments that some have relaxed the landscaping rules. That is what I'm after. As I said it is an interpretation and probably not exactly what the developer had in mind. Thanks for visiting my blog and for the comments you've left.

Thank you, Blackswamp Girl.

Dan In Fishers said...

Robin, being on the HOA can be a lot of work. However, use it to your advantage. Interject some common sense into the landscaping issue, try to get the park issues corrected, etc. Plus, you can get things accomplished that you want to see done. I have put in a 6.5 acre nature park in our common area and continue to plant trees whenever possible.

If your neighborhood is like mine, hardly anyone is involved or volunteers. I tell people that want to complain about something to volunteer on a committee or join the Board. They don't want to do that, so they usually disappear.

kate said...

I think that is a pretty tame rant, considering the issue. In Canada, we don't have to deal with this - perhaps in some neighbourhoods, but it isn't prevalent as it is the US.

It's great that you got involved in the HOA and hopefully can get things changed. That rule seems like a near impossibility to enforce, unless someone is doing back garden inspections. It doesn't make a lick of sense.

Good luck!

Annie in Austin said...

All I can offer is sympathy, Robin... the issue worries me because our neighborhood has an association, too.

I wouldn't have chosen to be in one but we didn't have much choice when buying either of two houses we've owned in Texas. We never saw any houses that we could fit in/afford that weren't part of a HOA.

Good luck,

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Ginni Dee said...

I'd get on that board and change things. I understand the reason behind these sorts of rules, but they were obviously written by someone who isn't a gardener and who's only grown grass...some who's never bought a rose only to have it leap out of it's supposed size expectation and sprawl all over the place. Eighteen inches is the length of over-long, unsightly grass...not roses or echanacea or many normal garden plants! Maybe grass is all they want you to plant!

Good luck, I hope you can change things.

Mary said...

I'm late but I'm glad I'm here.

"Any perennial or permanent plant added to a homeowner's property, that is over eighteen inches tall, has to be drawn to scale and submitted to the Arch Committee for approval"


We have HOA - always had some sort of HOA but this is the most ridiculous rule I have ever read. You need to have a tree approved?

Sorry, the landscaping rule is insane. We are required to hide our air conditioning units with shrubs and that's it.

I'm saying this in a nice way, Robin. Please don't back down :o)

Kylee said...

Wow Robin, I knew HOAs had restrictions, but I had no idea any of them were like this. I'd be in BIG trouble, I fear.
My grandma owns a condo that also has restrictions as to planting but they're pretty good about it. Her neighbor was growing a butterfly garden in her courtyard which the neighbors all hated because she grew a lot of natives and didn't take great care of it. As you can imagine, it looked like a micro mini meadow and the association took action. It's better than it was, but still isn't very attractive as far as curb appeal is concerned. I can imagine if it were your association, it wouldn't exist.
Not sure what words of advice I can give, but I'm glad to hear that you are working for change. Common sense really should rule in cases like this, but unfortunately sometimes it doesn't. Good luck and keep us posted!
Just thought of something - did you have to get permission for any bird feeders you have?

Anonymous said...

Hi Robin
I came across your site recently as I was doing some research on landscaping. I had a few questions
and was wondering what would be the best way to get in contact with you to discuss a few of them?


tina said...

Very interesting and congrats on getting this absurd interpretations banished. Couldn't imagine living like this at all.