The “FFL Law” – It’s complicated…
Q: Is there really a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ law that allows homeowners to remove their turfgrass and install Florida-Friendly Landscaping without HOA permission?
A: Not exactly… It’s a little more complicated.
Back in 2009, Florida Statute was modified to say that HOA rules “[…] may not prohibit or be enforced so as to prohibit any property owner from implementing Florida-Friendly Landscaping, as defined in s. 373.185, […]”* [Ref.]
People will sometimes quote that particular line as “proof” that you can re-do your landscape without seeking permission, and your HOA can’t stop you…
However,… an HOA’s architectural review board is still often allowed to determine whether proposed landscaping modifications will fit within the aesthetic style of the community (provided that’s the process specified in the deed restrictions). Therefore, while the HOA can’t outright prohibit someone from applying Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ principles, any proposed landscape modifications could still potentially be required to receive HOA board approval, and could potentially be required to meet certain aesthetic guidelines for design & maintenance (depending on the specifics in the deed restrictions).
Likewise, even if you don’t live within a deed-restricted community, your local government may have certain rules or codes about standards of property upkeep that must be met in order to avoid code enforcement actions, etc.
In short, the FFL law does not completely undo the architectural review process. An HOA still has authority to decide whether a proposed landscape modification would fit within the community’s overall design.
Likewise, allowing weeds and/or wildflowers to take over a yard and calling it “Florida-Friendly” could potentially still result in penalties or enforcement action, depending on the specific wording of your community’s rules.
(For example, the outcome of one recent case largely depended on subtle details like the specific definition, or lack thereof, of the word “weeds.”)
On the other hand, an HOA board could potentially be challenged if they are requiring landscape aesthetics that cannot reasonably be achieved by adhering to your local watering restrictions, or by following the 9 Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™. For example, if they require a homeowner to maintain an impossibly lush, green lawn, even when conditions are not suitable (dense shade, severe drought, winter dormancy, soil constraints, nematodes, etc.) and they’re demanding that the homeowner use excessive amounts of irrigation, fertilizer, re-sodding, etc. to achieve that unrealistic aesthetic… that could potentially be in conflict with the intent of the FFL law.
I want to be 100% clear. I am not a lawyer, and this blog post is not intended to substitute for legal advice. My main goal is to help highlight some of the ambiguous “grey areas,” and to counteract some of the questionable statements that seem to circulate on social media whenever HOAs and “the FFL law” get discussed… I’m hoping you’ll gain an understanding that these issues can get hazy, complicated, and potentially costly… so whenever possible, it’s better to avoid conflicts, find common ground, and prevent problems before they start.
(Also, just a general life-tip: Don’t believe all the “legal advice” you read in the Facebook comments section…)
Working smarter, not harder…
With all that in mind, here are a few tips & strategies to help avoid conflicts between homeowners and communities when making modifications to the landscape:
Find some common ground…
Maybe everyone can agree that half-dead turfgrass is a bad look…
Everyone can probably also agree that algae-filled ponds look gross. Plus, they cost a lot to maintain…
And everybody wants the community to look good, right?
And it would be great to save some money on pond maintenance, right?
Did you know? – Pond and landscape maintenance are often among the largest annual budget expenses for HOAs. But many people don’t realize that there’s a direct connection between their ponds’ excessive algae growth and the excessive irrigation and fertilizer being applied throughout the community… So, when tallking to the HOA about your landscape goals, rather than focus entirely on helping birds & pollinators, try connecting about wanting to help the community look good, clean up the ponds, & save some serious $$$$!
Talking-point tip #2:
Nearly everybody is familiar with the concept of a “square peg in a round hole.” It’s an analogy about stubbornly trying to make something fit where it doesn’t belong.
The “square peg” analogy can be a great way to help people understand the idea behind Florida-Friendly Landscaping. Why should you stubbornly struggle to force a plant to grow where it clearly doesn’t want to grow? There are plenty of attractive plants that are well-matched to those site conditions, and would LOVE to grow in that spot. Right plant, right place. Round peg, round hole. Work smarter, not harder.
Perfect. Now that you’ve got a couple of starting points of agreement…
A picture’s worth a thousand words…
Remember, even after you’ve explained about “right plant, right place,” etc., as soon as you say “I want to convert my turfgrass to Florida-Friendly Landscaping / drought-tolerant plants,” it’s an opportunity for imaginations to quickly run wild…
…In other words, the term “Florida-Friendly Landscaping” can invoke a lot of different ideas to different people.
If you’re envisioning a vibrant oasis of site-appropriate native shrubs, ornamental grasses, groundcovers, and blooming flowers, make sure they’re seeing it too!
TIP: You’ve probably already gone through the work of researching plants and developing a conceptual site plan, so it only takes a little extra time to gather a few photos to help share your vision for the space. Offer some reassurances that you’ve got a plan, and it’s going to look good.
[NOTE: If you haven’t done your homework yet, do that BEFORE going to the board! Particularly if you’re potentially trying to reference “the FFL law,” you’ll want to be ready to justify why your proposed modifications would better fulfill the Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles (i.e. matching “right-plant, right place,” etc.) than your current landscape does.]
If we approve this… what next?
One of the big concerns we often hear from members of HOA boards is this – If we approve a Florida-Friendly Landscaping change for one yard (such as expanding a landscape bed), do we risk our ability to maintain some “quality control” and say “no” to other, more extreme modifications?
In other words, they’re not necessarily opposed to allowing FFL modifications that “fit” with the community’s style, but they don’t want to simply “open the floodgates” and end up with total chaos. Likewise, they may be concerned that they’ll be accused of arbitrarily or inconsistently applying the rules if they say “yes” to your proposed changes, but “no” to your neighbor…
So… how exactly does an HOA maintain the ability to accept one type of modification, but still reject more extreme changes, such as all-gravel “xeriscaped**” yards?
Put it in the rules.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program has developed an excellent set of tools specifically to help HOA’s incorporate Florida-Friendly Landscaping language directly into their CCRs, and to facilitate cooperation between homeowners & the HOA.
- See: Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Model Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions
- See: ARB considerations for FFL guidelines for architectural review boards
The thing to remember is that Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) isn’t a single look or style. It’s all about matching the right plant with the right place, and providing the right care at the right time.
Every community is unique. Landscape conditions vary. Well-designed Florida-Friendly Landscapes can look vibrant and attractive, while using less water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Anyone can apply the 9 Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping in a way that fits their community’s aesthetics and landscape goals.
(**Side-note – The word “xeriscaped” was in one of the original versions of the FFL law, but was actually removed from the final language. The reason? Xeriscaping and FFL are actually very different concepts designed for very different climates. Because Xeriscape was developed for arid climates that receive minimal rainfall, it is generally inappropriate for our unique Florida climate, which can include extreme wet or dry conditions. Therefore, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ was designed to emphasize sustainable landscape practices such as adaptable, site-appropriate plants, stormwater filtration, and protection of water quality, as well as water conservation.)
For additional helpful resources, including ready-to-use templates for writing a Florida-Friendly landscape maintenance contract, check out the FFL “Community Association Kit.”
Learn more about matching “right plant, right place,” in my previous post. I’ve included links to a few helpful online plant selection tools that provide users various search filters (i.e. plant size, soil conditions, location, etc.) to find the perfect plants for any landscape!
TIP: Remember – Your local FFL Program Coordinators can also be a helpful resource! We will happily provide educational programs for the HOA board and community members so that everyone understands exactly what is and isn’t considered “Florida-Friendly,” how to select the “right plant, right place,” etc.
TIP: Set REALISTIC expectations! Florida-Friendly Landscaping doesn’t equal “no-maintenance!” Florida-Friendly Landscapes are still going to be maintained, although the type and balance of maintenance activities may shift somewhat. Every landscape will be different, but the largest benefits & savings are frequently from the reduced need for irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides, etc. There are often tradeoffs of increased weeding, especially when the new landscape areas are getting established.
Click to read about a comparison of maintenance and water usage in “traditional” landscapes vs. FFL.
Check out a great webinar about natural and non-chemical weed control – HERE.
The information in the above blog post was compiled and adapted from the following helpful FFL resources:
- Florida-Friendly Landscaping FAQs – Find answers to the most common FFL-related questions, including: Is Florida-Friendly Landscaping the same as “Xeriscaping?” Is turfgrass Florida-Friendly? …etc.
- Florida-Friendly Communities – a collection of numerous community-focused FFL resources, including many referenced in this post
- Florida-Friendly Landscaping – Model CCRs / Deed Restrictions – Ready-to-use template to help incorporate FFL language into your community’s CCRs
- Ten Strategies for Working With Your HOA to Convert to a Florida-Friendly Yard– Tips for working together and avoiding conflict
Created an attractive Florida-Friendly Landscape in your community? Consider submitting an entry to the annual Water-Wise Awards competition!
About UF/IFAS Extension: UF/IFAS Extension serves as a source of non-biased, research-based information for the residents, businesses, and communities of Florida, providing educational materials and programs for adults and youth. We proudly bring UF to you.
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About the Author
As one of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping (FFL) Program Coordinators in Pasco County, I enjoy helping people create & maintain vibrant landscapes that DON’T require a lot of water, fertilizer, and pesticides to look their best. Through an innovative collaboration with Pasco County Utilities, I also provide targeted on-site troubleshooting outreach to help those individuals and communities identified as high water users. My motto is – “Less guesswork, better landscapes.” I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a question, or an idea for a future post? Let me know at email@example.com or leave a comment below.
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