As the drought situation in California continues, most HOAs have taken water conservation very seriously. Boards are strongly encouraging owners to dramatically reduce their water use and replant landscapes with drought friendly plants. Synthetic turf has become a significant topic of conversation in the effort to conserve water, but many boards have been reluctant to approve artificial turf installations because of the unknowns surrounding the industry such as safety of the materials, longevity, quality and aesthetics. A new law changes that.

California Assembly Bill 349, which passed September 4, 2015 and is effective immediately, denies HOAs the right to restrict the use of artificial/synthetic turf. The bill voids any current governing document sections that prohibit the installation of artificial turf and prohibits HOAs from requiring a homeowner to remove the artificial turf once the drought improves. Given the current state of the drought in California this bill may look like a win for homeowners, but with extensive loopholes and no clear definition of “synthetic turf” it could have lasting negative effects on HOAs after the drought situation improves if board members don’t do their research and establish a policy immediately.

Civil Code 4735 states:

(a) Notwithstanding any other law, a provision of the governing documents or architectural or landscaping guidelines or policies shall be void and unenforceable if it does any of the following:

(1) Prohibits, or includes conditions that have the effect of prohibiting, the use of low water-using plants as a group or as a replacement of existing turf.

(2) Prohibits, or includes conditions that have the effect of prohibiting, the use of artificial turf or any other synthetic surface that resembles grass.

(3) Has the effect of prohibiting or restricting compliance with either of the following:

(A) A water-efficient landscape ordinance adopted or in effect pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 65595 of the Government Code.

(B) Any regulation or restriction on the use of water adopted pursuant to Section 353 or 375 of the Water Code.

(b) This section shall not prohibit an association from applying landscaping rules established in the governing documents, to the extent the rules fully conform with subdivision (a).

Note that subdivision (b) clarifies that associations can regulate the type of synthetic turf they want to allow. It’s highly recommended that all boards extensively research what kind of synthetic turf they deem acceptable and create a synthetic turf policy immediately. Having a policy in place is also a great starting point for homeowners who are interested in installing synthetic turf but don’t know where to begin. With all of the different styles, textures, colors and materials used to make synthetic turf, a policy is necessary to maintain a uniform look once installations begin.

For the full text of AB349, click here.

For the full text of Civil Code 4735, click here.