Friday, August 3, 2012

Coming to Terms

When we bought this house 7 years ago,
we didn't think too much about the HOA.
Our previous home was on a 1-acre lot with
no deed restrictions, and the neighbors could
pretty much do as they pleased.
What an awakening this change brought.
The HOA here has written us up for quite a few things,
mostly having to do with our lawn.
My letters of concern have gone unanswered,
representatives of the management company
have been downright rude and unprofessional,
and feelings of hostility have been harbored.

No more.
There's a new sheriff Board in the neighborhood
and I aim to make peace.
I know that we cannot move forward with our
homesteading plans until things are resolved where we are.
Several neighbors have even been volunteering our time
to clean up the yards of some of the abandoned homes
in the neighborhood.
It feels like the right way to approach this dilemma.

Don't get me wrong.
We will
live in a deed-restricted community again.
It's not for us.
I've never been a follower.
I've had my issues with authority figures.
I'm a law-abiding citizen, but I like doing things my own way.
I just dance to my own drum, always have,
so I shoulda known better.
But live and learn, right?
We now know that we don't ever want to be in a situation where someone who is not paying the taxes on our house
is able to make decisions about our yard,
paint color, mailbox or how many windchimes we can have.

Until we are able to move on to the next phase in our
homesteading adventure,
we are embracing what is.
As gardening is such a part of my daily life,
and I've been working on creating a backyard habitat,
I found the following checklist mighty handy
for those of us who want what we want
but need to conform (ouch, that word hurts) to the rules.

Be Floridian in an HOA

How to incorporate new, smarter gardening techniques
in your deed-restricted community

People who love Florida know that the right landscaping
can make your yard look beautiful without requiring
a lot of maintenance. And that means you can spend
more time fishing, boating or relaxing
instead of toiling in the yard each weekend.
People who love Florida also know
that plants suited to our unique climate need
less fertilizer to thrive.
And that helps protect our lakes and bays from the icky
algae blooms that feed on fertilizer runoff,
killing fish and ruining our fun.

A 2009 Florida law gave homeowners in deed-restricted communities the right
to adopt a Florida-friendly approach to their yards.
No, this does not mean you can
rip up your lawn and turn it into a gravel parking lot
for your boat.
And yes, this is exactly what your homeowners association
is afraid of.
If you want to change your landscaping
to incorporate more plants that are suited
to the Florida climate,
start by looking at it from your HOA’s point of view.
After all, it is their responsibility to protect
your community property values.
That means they are looking out for you.
So before you begin, be sure to know your rights.
But be sure also to remember your neighborly manners.
Ready to get started?

4 steps to getting HOA approval for your yard makeover

1. First, read your HOA documents.
They will spell out your landscape requirements,
which may be different from
what your neighbors say they are.
Many deed restrictions do not require grass;
or if they do, they may not require a certain type.
But almost all require plants covering most of a home site.

2. Do your homework.
Sketch out what changes you want to make
to your landscape, and draw up a simple design
you can show your HOA board.
Help them visualize what you want to do.
Show them photos of the plants you want to use,
or completed landscapes similar to what you envision.
If you are totally clueless about landscape design,
hire a designer or gardening coach.
Our Be Floridian partners are great resources.
It’s not as expensive as you might think,
and their professional expertise may help
the HOA approval process go more smoothly.

3. Be prepared.
Write a formal letter to your HOA requesting permission
to make your landscape more Florida-friendly.
Mention that Florida law now allows homeowners
even in deed-restricted neighborhoods to install
Florida-friendly landscapes.
Keep it cordial and positive; don’t assume
they will say no or be unreasonable.
Request a meeting so that you can
show them your beautiful landscape design,
and tell them in person how your changes
will enhance the community and protect the environment,
which in turn protects property values
by keeping Tampa Bay an attractive place to live.
Be willing to negotiate.

4. Be patient.
Remember that most HOA boards are composed of residents
who volunteer to serve. They are busy just like you.
Give them time to get back to you, and don’t pester them. Make sure you start the HOA approval
process well before you actually
want to start digging up grass and moving dirt.
For example, if you plan a spring makeover,
lay the groundwork in the winter.
Save yourself a lot of trouble and don’t start
until you secure approval from your HOA.

Visit for more ideas
on how to garden the Florida way.