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No-Mow, Zero-Waste, Drought-Resistant, Ecological Landscape of Plants


HOA Lawsuit

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No-Mow Zone

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

the abolitionist, Frederick Douglass

Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.

the plutocrat/technocrat, Samuel P. Huntington

Nothing appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as Force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.

the philosopher, David Hume

I haven't lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

the social justice activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We do not have water utility service at our residence in Central Texas, since we are extremely frugal in our consumption of fresh water, the vital "oil of the 21st century". The little fresh water that we harvest from the rain is not enough to sustain mowed "lawns", and even if we did harvest enough rain water, it would be extremely wasteful to use it as irrigation for maintaining mowed "lawns".

Most grasses - especially those grasses that homeowners’ associations (HOAs) require to be mowed - require large amounts of water (and fertilizer) to maintain its green color and survive (rather than die or go dormant) during summer droughts as a "lawn". This even applies to warm-season grasses like "Common Bermuda", which is what was initially installed on our lot. However, our HOA requires us to mow this grass to a height of less than 6 inches, despite the fact that this is only a small-to-medium height grass, growing to a maximum height of about 18-24 inches un-mowed.

We live in a suburb within the greater Austin area, and even the City of Austin - obviously a mainstream institution - has published a guide for sustainable landscapes:

The guide states the following on Page 50:

Sustainable landscape practices promote reducing turfgrass use because of its potential high water use and higher maintenance from mowing and nutritional needs. If you decide to use turf then choose it wisely and keep the area small. If you decide not to use turf consider using one of the groundcovers listed in this guide as a lawn alternative.

In fact, the City of Austin provides rebates for people to get rid of their resource-intensive, high-maintenance turfgrass lawns and replace them with no-mow, drought-tolerant grasses and groundcovers.

For all of these reasons, rather than being forced to mow our lawn, we have tried to get our HOA to compromise, and allow us to cut individual plants that exceed 24 inches in height, to maintain an overall height of 24 inches. This entails cutting individual "weeds" and grass that exceed 24 inches on a weekly basis, which we are still opposed to, but we are willing to do as a compromise. However, the HOA and a small minority of our hostile neighbors will have none of it, and are taking us to court, despite the fact that we are maintaining our yard in a drought-resistant manner - something that is supposed to be protected by Texas Property Code, Sections Section 202.007, taking effect starting in 2013. In addition, Texas Property Code Section 202.010, which also took effect starting in 2013, protects the property owners’ right to harvest solar energy, and plants are the ultimate store of solar energy. According to environmental journalists/activists Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry, plants are the original "solar panels". So for many reasons, the HOAs rules, which were written back in 2006 and have not been modified since, are not in compliance with the recent (2013) additions to the Texas Property Code. In addition to requiring us to mutilate the grass and other native/wild plants on our yard, the HOA also wants us to butcher the bushes (see the photographs below), which have also been very strongly against for numerous reasons (see the approval document attached below).

So, we tried to compromise even further with the HOA, by replacing the medium-height "Common Bermuda" grass with a very low-growing "Cutlass Zoysia" grass, using the permacultural procedure of "sheet-mulching" (or "lasagna-gardening" or "no-dig-gardening") to implement the replacement (see the "Specification" document below for details). Other Central Texas families have applied the same procedure to their frontyard lawns:

NOTE:  We encourage readers to use free software such as VLC Media Player to view YouTube videos in the free WebM format.
Front yard makeover | Ryan & Havilah Gee |                          
Central Texas Gardener                                                               
NO DIG GARDEN PRT.#1( laying out)                                   

Since the extreme drought of 2011, there have been many Texas property owners that gave gotten rid of turf-grasses entirely, replacing them with groundcovers and other drought-tough (well-adapted and/or native/wild) plants:

Stylish No Lawn Drought Design - Pam Penick |                       
Central Texas Gardener                                                               
No-Lawn Front Yard Pops with Color:  Velia Sanchez-Ruiz |           
Central Texas Gardener                                                               
Front Yard Native Prairie | Kasie and Andrew Brazell |              
Central Texas Gardener                                                               
No-lawn garden design| Lana & Bob Beyer |                           
Central Texas Gardener                                                               
Made for the shade |                                                
Central Texas Gardener                                                               
Shading plants |                                                    
Central Texas Gardener                                                               
Rollingwood City Hall lawn to garden |                              
Central Texas Gardener                                                               
Spare Water, Not Style | Linda and Carl Peterson |                  
Central Texas Gardener                                                               
Wildlife, Waterwise Garden on Many Levels |                         
Annie Gillespie and Rachael Beavers designers |                     
Central Texas Gardener                                                               
Plants That Light Up the Night | Amanda Moon |                      
Central Texas Gardener                                              

In fact, the list of local Central Texas homeowners installing xeriscapes and wildlife-friendly, no-mow gardens is huge:

There are even property owners that have taken out all of the turf-grass and dedicated their entire front-yard to grow vegetables, again in an urban/suburban, residential setting:

Allen Smith Tours Shawna Coronado's Front Yard Garden                                
Front Yard Food Forest: Ben McConnell & Steph Hengle |              
Central Texas Gardener                                      
Masters of the Edible Landscape                                                      
Why Zoysia grass turned yellow | Daphne Richards |                  
Central Texas Gardener                                                       
Episode 7 - Take Back the Farm                                      

There are even farmers farming vegetables in typical small (less than half an acre in size) suburban residential subdivision lots just like ours, that used to have grass installed on it:

Ten Acre Organics Suburban Farm | Central Texas Gardener                        
Movers & Shakers | Central Texas Gardener                                            
Urban Conversion: Backyard Farmer Teaser                            

So, how is it possible that we are being so viciously targetted by our HOA/neighbors for doing something that is much less in an area so close to these other homeowners? And we are not even asking to grow or farm vegetables in our front yard. We are merely wanting a drought-resistant, no-mow solution. Yet, our HOA and a few hostile neighbors are still refusing to compromise and are taking us to court over this issue. This is a particularly egregious and discriminatory attack against us because even our next door neighbors replaced their grass with another species of grass without even seeking approval from the HOA. The only differences between what they did and what we did were:

Furthermore, many neighbors are performing all types of unapproved changes to their yards without seeking HOA approval, and the HOA never bothers them about any of this these changes. The HOA is an extremely undemocratic, authoritarian, totalitarian, top-down, repressive and discriminatory institution, and it often takes only a small minority of hostile or narrow-minded neighbors to ruin a family that is trying to fight for what is right and just. And based on our conversations with the local county master gardeners, we apparently live in an unusually authoritarian, repressive and discriminatory HOA. In short, we should not have to suffer simply because we are living in an unusually authoritarian/discriminatory HOA with a few hostile neighbors around us. In more favorable circumstances - in essence, if these neighbors were not hostile towards us - we would be allowed to pursue our sustainable landscape without any problems, but such is not the case, unfortunately. In fact, we even received an extremely hostile anonymous mail in the mail, supposedly from one or a group of our neighbors, where they not only threaten to take us to court but that they will settle for nothing less than “taking [our] house away [from us]”.

HOAs are largely unregulated, allowing them to be extremely authoritarian, repressive and undemocratic, and leading to a huge public backlash in Texas and throughout the country. As a result of this lack of regulation, we cannot use the state’s Attorney General’s office to take any enforcement actions against these HOAs:

Polling data of people living within HOAs shows that HOAs are extremely unpopular:

A 2007 poll found that two-thirds of people who live under an HOA say they are annoyed by them or worse, and 19 percent report having been in a "war" with their HOA. Over half say they would rather live with a sloppy neighbor than have an HOA. One Texas organization that fights against HOA abuse has actually observed an "HOA Syndrome" visible in people that is a result of living under obnoxious HOAs.

HOA abuse has gotten so bad lately a class action lawsuit was filed last month against over 500 HOAs in Nevada for practices by collection agencies charging unauthorized fees and bullying homeowners.

Some states have passed Homeowners' Bill of Rights. Usually more government regulations make a problem worse. However, since HOAs are arguably quasi-governmental, keeping the government out of all regulation is not so simple since it is already there. One solution might be for local government to stop granting so many building permits to developers that include HOAs in their proposed housing developments.

Homeowners need to stand up to the HOAs when they have a legitimate complaint. If they can beat the HOAs in court, and the HOAs cannot collect legal fees, it will force the HOAs to raise their annual dues, making them a less attractive location to buy a home. Homeowners should also join HOA boards then vote to dissolve them.

HOAs are a bad idea. Just because something appears to be run in the private sector does not make it a good thing ... The reality is there is very little voluntariness left to joining an HOA. They have grown into an almost unavoidable form of socialist government that goes completely counter to the principles of freedom and liberty our founding fathers fought so hard for. Do not be fooled. If they are not stopped, they will continue to subtly grow and take over, until we have little freedom left. Socialism can creep into a society through many channels, not just through the traditional branches of government.

Although we mostly agree with the article above, we disagree with the use of the term "socialism". The author should have used the terms "authoritarianism", "totalitarianism" and "tyranny", especially because the HOA is a private-sector entity - not a public-sector entity - but also because it is entirely possible to have a fully democratic and fully libertarian form of "socialism" that is not authoritarian, totalitarian or tyrannical. Due to their authoritarian, repressive, undemocratic and tyrannical nature, several groups that have organized against HOAs jokingly refer to HOAs as "Hatred of America":

But even a representative from the Community Associations Institute (CAI) - a pro-HOA lobbying organization that pretty-much serves as public relations for the HOA industry - has informed us that our HOA is particularly discriminatory, authoritarian, repressive, totalitarian, tyrannical, hostile and undemocratic. They have advised us to employ an attorney to counter-sue our HOA for selective enforcement (discriminatory treatment), violating Texas Property Code, violating fair-housing laws, filing a frivolous lawsuit, harassment and defamation/slander. They are surprised that we are facing this type of extremely unfair treatment in an area so close to Austin, which is supposed to be a hotbed of diverse, progressive and environmental/naturalist values: So, although HOAs, generally-speaking, have a horrible reputation, our HOA is perhaps the worst of the worst!

As many of the links posted in this document indicate, we know that we are not alone in this fight, and that there is a growing "no-mow" movement of people fighting for sustainable, zero-waste/no-mow or edible landscapes, wildlife habitats, and "shaggy" (un-mowed) prairie lawns/gardens, for example, quoting directly from "Natural Resources Defense Council" (NRDC) articles:

The No-Mow Movement

A growing number of homeowners are converting part or all of their lawns to a less thirsty form of landscape. These no-mow yards fall into four categories: 1) naturalized or unmowed turf grass that is left to grow wild; 2) low-growing turf grasses that require little grooming (most are a blend of fescues); 3) native or naturalized landscapes where turf is replaced with native plants as well as noninvasive, climate-friendly ones that can thrive in local conditions; and 4) yards where edible plants - vegetables and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs - replace a portion of turf. (According to the National Gardening Association, one in three families now grows some portion of the food they consume.)

Our current landscape is a combination of categories (1) and (2) listed above, while our previous landscape of unmowed "Common Bermuda" grass was purely of category (1). So, if we were really purist about it and totally unwilling to compromise any further on this issue, we would reject our HOA’s denial and take them to court over it, especially since we have already incurred considerable expense (money, time and labor) implementing it. We have already collectively spent over 600 hours of our own back-breaking labor and $8000 of our own money in implementing this new landscape. But we are willing to compromise even further than we already have and spend even more money, time and effort implementing category (3) listed above, which is what our latest approval document submission (see attached below) is all about.

Also, the concept of no-mow, ecological, environmentally-friendly, zero-waste landscapes is not a new concept that is found only in new/recent literature either. It has been documented in literature even as early as 1989 in New York Times articles:

and in the 1993 US Environmental Protection Agency’s "Greenacres" document which seems to be a copy of "The John Marshall Law Review, Volume 26, Summer 1993, Number 4":

Quoting directly from this EPA "Greenacres" document:

The positive economic consequences of natural landscaping are twofold. First, there are the direct costs. Natural landscapes are less costly to maintain than a traditional exotic lawn or exotic landscape. Once established, natural landscapes are not mowed, fertilized, treated with pesticides or herbicides, and they do not need watering. For the homeowner or office building manager, direct costs are substantially reduced.

Natural Landscaping - The practice of cultivating plants which are native to the bioregion without resort to artificial methods of planting and care such as chemical fertilizer, mowing, watering other than by through natural processes (rain), with the goal of harmonizing the landscape with the larger biotic community and ecosystem of the immediate and surrounding bioregion.

This EPA "Greenacres" document explains that unmowed prairie gardens are not a "nuisance" as some governmental organizations might falsely claim, and that the typical negative misconceptions ("nuisance", "fire hazard", "mosquitoes", etc.) about unmowed prairie gardens are misinformed and not backed up by scientific evidence. Instead, the following academic articles argue that mowed lawns are the real public nuisance due to all of the environmental destruction, pollution and extreme waste involved, which should be common sense, but unfortunately is not:

We have fully documented our procedure (with photographs) and submitted approval documentation of our procedure (see attached approval document below for more details) multiple times with multiple revisions to fully satisfy the HOA’s requirements, but they are still not willing to compromise even the slightest bit.

Here, we initially prepare our landscape using the ecological, permacultural technique of "sheet-muchling" (or "lasagna-gardening" or "no-dig-gardening") with cardboard mulch:2017-03-24 0
Here, we add 4 inches of soil for the new grass/groundcover to grow:2017-04-24 0
Here, is our landscape at the beginning of May 2017, after the new "no-mow" grass has been installed in most places but without any naturalization from competing vegetation. At this point in time, the HOA was threatening to obtain a court-ordered restraining order against us, unless we stopped all landscaping. So, we complied with their request to stop all landscaping work, until further approval:2017-05-08 0
2017-05-08 1
And finally, here is our partially naturalized landscape at the end of August 2017, after drought-tolerant native/wild vegetation has naturalized most of the yard along with the low-growing "no-mow" grass: