HOA Files Lawsuit For Florida Friendly Landscaping!

Sidle Yard

This picture is app. 4 months old. The landscaping looks even better now!

I have written several articles over the past year about this beautifully landscaped home in Duval County, but had my “fingers tied” for several months while negotiations and mediation was going on.  I’m sorry to have to report that after months of quiet the couple in Jacksonville, FL has been served a lawsuit for their Florida Friendly Landscaping (FFL).  Residing in the Marsh Sound community, this couple submitted their intentions to convert their yard to FFL landscaping in January, 2011, and, after not receiving a response within 30 days, as stated in the covenants and restrictions, they began installing new drought-tolerant plants after removing the dead St. Augustine grass.

I personally attended several HOA meetings on the couple’s behalf only to find the Board members quite unreceptive to Florida Statute 373.185, our impending water shortages, FFL principles and the printed materials I brought.  They insisted the only way the couple could complete their FFL yard was to receive the FFL Gold rating, which they did, becoming the first FFL Gold certified yard in Duval County.  Instead of congratulating the couple, the HOA Board accused the couple of submitting a false application and not actually having anyone from the UF Extension Service inspect the property!  In subsequent meetings the Board stood fast on their belief that they could “pick and choose” the parts of the Florida Statutes pertaining to drought-tolerant landscaping that suited them.  Did I mention their house is on the main road of the community and there is already a previously FFL certified yard (but not Gold) in one of the cul de sacs?

The HOA’s attorney became involved followed by an attorney representing the couple, which seemed to work until the date of mediation.  Several months ago at mediation (almost 1 year later), the parties (the HOA’s attorney representing the Board of Directors), the couple and their attorney came to an agreement.  However, after reaching the agreement the HOA’s attorney called the HOA Board President who refused to accept the agreement that had been reached.  The HOA’s attorney had to return to the group and cancel the agreement even though he had been given the authority to represent the Board.

Several more months passed with no communication between attorneys and then suddenly, the couple was served papers for a lawsuit against them.  Curiously the lawsuit only addresses the area between the sidewalk and the street which the HOA says is common area and belongs to the community AND must be planted with St. Augustine grass.  I find it unbelievable that they are now going to enforce something like this for 2 reasons:

1.  Landscaping and irrigating the small strip of land between the sidewalk and the street with no longer meet the Gold standard of FFL principles.
2.  A house in the next block (on a corner lot) removed their grass years ago (before this couple had even thought about a FFL yard) and replaced it with white marble chips which spill over the area onto the street and sidewalk. 
 

The next time I am in their area I plan to take pictures of the marble chip yard so you can see how unattractive and dangerous it is.  I knew about the chips as I have walked my dog in the neighborhood and almost slipped on one of the rocks. You will probably start seeing articles on the TV stations and newspapers as this lawsuit continues.  The couple has already been contacted by Action 12 News to do a story.  I wonder if contacting State Representatives would do any good.  This may very well be the first lawsuit to test the Florida Statutes regarding homeowners’ rights to install drought tolerant landscaping.

 

18 responses to “HOA Files Lawsuit For Florida Friendly Landscaping!

  1. Can anyone recommend 5 certified mediatiors from the supreme court list that work on HOA Florida Friendly Landscaping issues in Broward County?

  2. I too am currently being sued by my HOA for planting 9 extra buses of walters viburnums. My case is a neighbor that wants to dictate what I plant. They run this place like a dictatorship. They ignore all logic.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you will join our Facebook group, Homeowners for Florida Friendly yards and share your location information there. With more potential buyers becoming aware of “FFL-hostile” communities it is becoming very important that new homeowners don’t end up in a neighborhood where they are so wrongly restricted in their landscaping choices.

      • Just FYI-
        A verdict was just reached in a Florida-Friendly trial in which I was the defendant (started last August- judgement came down in June this year). It is Sterling Park Estates v. Rebecca Hines in Volusia County, FL.

        Long and the short of it is that the judge ruled Florida-Friendly unconstitutional if covenants were in place before legislation came into play. He said I would have had to ask permission, and then sue the HOA if I was denied. Basically, he said the homeowner will win if he/she sues, but can’t use it as a defense.

        I won the case due to selective enforcement, FYI, and will not have to pull out my lawn-

        I will be happy to share the lengthy judgement doc if you would like. It was the first case to be tried with Florida-Friendly as a defense.

        • It’s good that you won because I think the decision FFL is unconstitutional was not a good ruling. The judge was basing his ruling on the prohibition to applying statutes retroactively. There is an exception for statutes that are remedial, curative or passed as a matter of public policy and the FFL falls in that category.

  3. We have a hearing on two similar cases this week (02/07/13 and 02/08/13) in Orange County & Brevard County. We intend to go all the way against these HOAs.

    • Wow, I certainly appreciate you letting me know about these cases Barbara. First of all I respect you or your firm for helping defend homeowners’ rights to install drought-tolerant yards.

      There are many of us who will be anxious to hear the outcome of these 2 cases that were held this week. I certainly hope you will provide any updates possible so a number of followers will be able to find out more about what the courts think about upholding the Florida Statute. Also, if you or the homeowners would consider joining our Facebook group “Homeowners for Florida Friendly Yards”, it would be helpful to members who are running across defiant HOAs in many parts of the state to hear from those who are in a different stage of their mission.

      • Yesterday was very interesting with Kevin Speers from the Orlando Sentinel sitting in on the proceedings. As expected the HOA is arguing their right to regulate FFL as long as they do not prohibit it. I want to know which board member is qualified to do soil analysis and other tests to determine the right plant, right place. I can’t say anything more at this point, but stay tuned.

        I will get the word out for people to join the Facebook group “Homeowners for Florida Friendly Yards.” That is fantastic!! I would love to know what Charlie Crist thinks about these lawsuits. He and the other elected officials of this state were very much behind this law.

        • Wow…thanks for the update Barbara!! I feel sure there were some interesting conversations in these hearings! Amazing the FFL regulations a HOA believes they change is varied and, depending on the Board members and their agendas, arbitrary. We look forward to any updates you can provide as the “process” seems to move slower than a snail’s pace. The lawsuit in Duval County is crawling along with months of silence between communications.

          Thanks for spreading the word on the FB page. Who knows maybe Charlie Crist will join the group, even if he doesn’t comment. There are several U of F IFAS folks following my blog and members of the FB page. As you know U of F IFAS folks can only provide education and do not get involved with the legal aspect…that’s why we so much appreciate folks like you and the firm in Jacksonville!

          • Jennifer Zambrano

            Barbara, please keep us updated! I hope the homeowners in question will consider joining the facebook group. Sharing information and receiving support of from other like minded folks is so valuable. It was a great help to us when we decided to fight our HOA.

  4. Jennifer Zambrano

    How awful for these homeowners, but I applaud them for standing their ground. It appears they are fully within the letter of the law, and it is shameful that some of these HOA Boards feel they can operate these communities as their own private dictatorships. Clearly, this HOA president feels his or her personal opinion regarding aesthetically acceptable landscape trumps Florida law. This HOA Board and others like them are going to be in for a rude awakening as increasing water shortages and pollution concerns make Florida Friendly a necessity rather than a simply a choice made by responsible homeowners. This sort of resistance simply defies logic and common sense.
    I am behind these homeowners 100%. Jeannette, please keep us posted; my family and I will be happy to do anything needed to support these folks.

    • Thanks, Jennifer. I will let you know if I can get anything organized like letters to our State Representatives, spreading the news or comments on newspaper articles. I am so glad your HOA was open to FFL and is years ahead of so many other close-minded communities!

    • Some interesting developments in my case. U of F IFAS presentation now includes a slide with my client’s yard (which by the way looks much better than mine) and opposing counsel’s law firm blogging about FFL and how great it is!

      • Thanks for the update Barbara. I guess this attorney believes in the FFL concepts but since he was hired to handle the HOA’s lawsuit he has to take an opposing position. Do you think the new HOA Reform Bill 7119 will have any impact on what the HOAs can do about FFL now?

        I know everyone would really appreciate you providing an update on FB’s Homeowners for Florida Friendly yards if you have time. Not everyone gets updates on comments to the blog-posts. Also, I would love to know the attorney’s blog URL to read some of his comments.

        • The attorney on the case has not blogged about it, but associates with the law firm have blogged quite a bit. If you search “Florida Friendly Landscaping Taylor & Carls” you will see all the blogs.

          The HOA Reform Bill 7119 has not changed any of the FFL language. Our Florida Legislators must think the meaning is obvious and its just the association attorneys don’t get it. It will be interesting to see how much community association managers (“CAM”) will now help attorneys bend the laws because there are serious consequences if the CAM violates the statutes.

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