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New nationwide laws limit power of homeowners associations to dictate residents' yards — here's why it's important

"This is the future of environmentally friendly living."

"This is the future of environmentally-friendly living."

Photo Credit: iStock

Across the U.S., a growing legislative trend is empowering homeowners to cultivate native plants in their yards, even when homeowners associations forbid it.

In 2022, 84% of new, single-family homes belonged to an HOA that sets landscaping rules, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But thanks to new state laws, HOAs in some areas can no longer require pristine grass lawns or prohibit native vegetation.

These changes are a win-win for people and the planet. Native plants create vital habitats for local wildlife, like birds and butterflies. They're also often cheaper and easier to maintain than conventional lawns. Yet until now, many HOAs have stymied eco-friendly landscaping, mandating grass and viewing native plants as "messy" weeds.

HOAs across the country have been caught preventing homeowners from making money-saving, eco-friendly updates to their homes. From prohibiting native plant gardens to restricting rooftop solar panels, these rules not only hurt homeowners' wallets but also stall important environmental progress.

For example, when Virginia resident Melinda Soltys grew a haven of native plants in her yard, her HOA told her to rip them out for violating "weed" restrictions. Rather than back down, she partnered with environmental groups to introduce legislation protecting native plants in HOA communities.

Virginia lawmakers are now considering the bill, modeled after a Maryland law passed in 2021.

Maine and Minnesota have also recently passed laws allowing native plants in HOA-regulated yards and beyond. By making these landscapes more commonplace, the laws aim to shift perceptions and showcase the beauty of native flora.

Many residents are discovering their HOAs welcome the change, especially in drought-prone regions where native plants save water. In one Arkansas community, a local Audubon Society chapter collaborated with the HOA to educate residents and even declare an annual "Native Plant Week."

"When you see the magic, that unlocks everything," said Renee Grebe, Northern Virginia conservation advocate at the nonprofit Nature Forward, who worked with Soltys to shape and promote the Virginia bill. Drawing birds and butterflies right to people's yards is the best way to change minds about native plants, she explained.

"This is the future of environmentally friendly living," said Janet Smith, a Minnesota homeowner. "My native garden is a magnet for hummingbirds and butterflies, and it's saving me time and money."

If your HOA has rules against eco-friendly updates like native plants, rooftop solar, or electric vehicle chargers, you're not alone. We've created a guide to help you work with your HOA to update outdated policies.

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