23ABC Investigates: HOA warns residents of potential fines for dead lawns, CA water board disagrees

Posted at 6:38 PM, Aug 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-16 21:53:33-04

Several residents in the Rio Vista Community Association received notices that they were going to be fined for having brown spots in their lawns.

Many of those residents said they were watering the maximum three days per week and felt they would be fined by the city if they watered more than three days or fined if they didn’t water more and still had brown spots.

Benjamin Adams was one homeowner who said he waters on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, but still can’t get the yellow-brown spots to go away.

“I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Adams.

He said he takes pride in his landscaping, but because of the drought and the watering restrictions he can’t get rid of the dying grass.

According to a letter Adams received recently from his homeowners association, brown spots are not allowed.

“Basically it says here that recent observations have identified that my lot is not in compliance with the enforcement rules and that I need to bring it in to full compliance within the next thirty days or I get a fine of one hundred dollars,” said Adams as he read the letter.

Adams said he is upset because if he over waters he can face a fine from the city, but if he doesn’t water any more he can face a fine from the HOA.

“You know I don’t know if I should make the HOA happy or the city and you know it’s just turning into a stressful situation for me,” said Adams.

23ABC investigated and according to the California State Water Board and the Bakersfield Water Resource Department, HOAs are prohibited from imposing a fine or threatening to impose a fine against a homeowner for reducing or not watering their lawns when the Governor has declared a state of emergency to do a drought.

California Water Service Co. district manager, Rudy Valles Jr., said even though statewide restrictions have been lifted, it’s still important that everyone does their part in saving water.

“There’s conservation that we have to – numbers that we have to meet and we all have to be part of that, and, you know, an HOA saying they’re going to fine people, that doesn’t sound right to me,” said Valles.

State water officials said when HOAs violate those regulations the board or the water supplier can fine the HOA up to $500 per day.

Valles said he didn’t know they could impose fines until 23ABC News told him, but the company is looking into what sort of action it can take to encourage HOAs to conserve.

The Rio Vista Community Association was unavailable for an interview Tuesday, but sent a statement to 23ABC:

"HOA Management Solutions, Inc. manages Rio Vista Community Association in accordance with the CC&Rs and applicable laws.  

Rio Vista Community Association Board members and residents want to live in a community that is safe, aesthetically pleasing, and where their community governance ensures the maximization of property values.  After all, that is why these homeowners have elected to live in a community governed by a homeowners association.

As of today, there has been no fines imposed on a single homeowner; this is in part as we are aware of the state watering restrictions. If and when there is a violation of the governing documents, owners are provided ample opportunities to meet with the Board.  

If a homeowner is experiencing circumstances that cause an inadvertent compliance issue, the board, which again, are that owner's neighbors, will work with that homeowner to ensure as much as possible is done to work with the homeowner while maintaining the character and features of the Rio Vista Community Association.

Homeowners are not prevented from curing the violations with other means allowed by law, including artificial turf, water-efficient landscaping, and low water-using plants, but not limited to.  Homeowners may submit such plans to the Board for approval, which will not be unreasonably withheld or delayed."

For more information on what to do if your HOA tries to fine you for a brown lawn click here.