Effective Monday, July 21, 2014, a homeowners association is no longer allowed to impose fines against members who reduce watering their lawns during a declared state of emergency due to drought, despite any provision in the association’s governing documents to the contrary.

Record low rainfall has prompted Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in California and many local governments have responded as well by enacting ordinances that restrict the watering of lawns during this drought. Given the severity of the drought, it is not surprising that our legislature joined the response.

Recognizing that Common Interest Developments represent approximately one quarter of the state’s housing, and that homeowners associations could fine members for trying to save water, the legislature passed Assembly Bill 2100, which was signed into law by Governor Brown earlier this week. Unlike many new laws, this bill is effective immediately because it was passed as an “urgency statute,” which is allowed under the California Constitution when a law is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.

The bill amends Civil Code Section 4735 of the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act, which originally prohibited an association’s regulation of low-water using plants and water-efficient landscaping. The amendment adds a new subsection (subsection (c)), which prohibits an association from imposing fines against members who reduce or eliminate watering of vegetation and lawns during any period for which the Governor or a local government has declared a state of emergency due to drought. New Section 4735 can be found below, with the amended subsection in Bold.

As this drought continues, and as we face droughts in the future, Boards of Directors and property managers must think twice before fining members based on landscaping restrictions. However, when there is no declared state of emergency due to drought by either the Governor or the local government where the association is located, this new subsection of 4735 will not apply.

We will provide more information as the language of the statute is further discussed and the intent of the Legislature further reviewed.  If you are facing issues such as these within your association, please contact us with any questions or concerns.

Civil Code Section 4735

(a) Notwithstanding any other law, a provision of the governing documents 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.

(2) 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 the requirements of subdivision (a).

(c) Notwithstanding any other provision of this part, an association shall not impose a fine or assessment against a member of a separate interest for reducing or eliminating the watering of vegetation or lawns during any period for which either of the following have occurred:

(1) The Governor has declared a state of emergency due to drought pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 8558 of the Government Code.

(2) A local government has declared a local emergency due to drought pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 8558 of the Government Code.

SEC. 2.

This act is an urgency statute necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety within the meaning of Article IV of the Constitution and shall go into immediate effect. The facts constituting the necessity are: In order to conserve water during California’s historic drought by prohibiting an association from penalizing members who conserve water by watering their lawns less often, it is necessary that this bill take immediate effect.