We get a LOT of questions about HOAs from our landscape design clients. What are they? What do they do? How do you best work with them?
Below, we’ll dive into all you need to know about working with HOAs, answering the most common questions we get about designing and building landscapes within HOA communities.
Table of Contents
Let’s begin with some basic info about HOAs.
A Primer on HOAs
What are HOAs?
Homeowners associations, or HOAs, set and enforce rules related to the design and use of properties. HOAs have authority over a defined community, typically planned communities, subdivisions, or condominium developments. All residents in an HOA community must pay HOA membership fees, and the rules of HOAs are legally enforceable.
HOAs are run by a board of directors that sets HOA rules, administers governing documents, and develops an HOA budget, funded by membership fees.
Why do HOAs exist?
The primary reason HOAs exist is to maintain standards within neighborhoods. These standards relate to the design, maintenance, and use of people’s home and yards.
HOA regulations intend to strengthen property values in the neighborhood by maintaining a cohesive, attractive look and discouraging undesirable activity, from late-night parties to unsanctioned business operations.
What are typical HOA landscape regulations?
HOA regulations vary from one community to the next, but tend to emphasize front yards, trees, fences, and architectural features that are visible from the street, as such elements impact the overall appearance of the community. For the same reason, HOA regulations commonly dictate landscape maintenance standards.
When it comes to landscape design, HOAs often require plants to be chosen from approved plant lists to ensure a consistent look across the community. Increasingly, HOA plant lists are also used to enforce low-water or fire-resistant planting, though this is not true to all HOAs.
HOAs commonly define standards for the appearance of planting, mulch, driveways and other hardscape features, and frequently limit the use of front yard furnishings and vegetable gardens.
Traditionally, HOAs favor landscapes with lawns, and many continue to require homeowners to maintain front yard lawns of a certain size and standard. Lawn care and lawn maintenance regulations pertaining to mowing, fertilization, and irrigation systems are common as well.
As drought and climate change increasingly challenge water supplies and biodiversity, some HOAs – especially in the West – are replacing lawn requirements with more sustainable and ecologically-minded design recommendations, such as native plant requirements. We applaud such changes!
Now that we know a bit about HOAs, let’s take a look at how the landscape design process works within an HOA community.
Landscape Design in HOA Communities
Who is responsible for what during an HOA landscape design and build project?
Individual homeowners, designers, and contractors, as well as HOA committees, community associations, property managers, and management companies could all have some role in the development and execution of a landscape project within an HOA community.
As with standards, the process for project approval is likely to vary from one HOA to the next.
Typically, clients work with landscape professionals – either designers or design and build contractors – to develop a design. They then connect with a contractor to install their design.
HOAs or their representatives will review designs at set points in the process, typically prior to installation and upon completion of installation.
How do I get the landscape I want while following HOA regulations?
Clients often purchase within HOA communities because they appreciate the style defined by community regulations. That said, sometimes homeowners want to add a little personal flair to their yards.
The stringency of an HOA’s regulations and the distance between your desired style and the regulated look of the community dictate whether it will be simple or more challenging to achieve your particular landscape goals. This is especially true for front yard landscaping, though HOA regulations do apply to backyards as well.
Hiring a landscape designer is the best way to achieve personal design goals while navigating HOA requirements. It also pays for homeowners to educate themselves on the landscaping rules that apply to their properties, so they can be engaged partners with their designer throughout the design process.
How do I stay within a budget during an HOA landscaping project?
In most cases, HOA regulations do not have a significant impact on the budget of a project. The same budget-saving strategies that you would apply to any landscape project – prioritizing the most important features, cutting out unnecessary hardscaping, leaning on planting to achieve design goals – all apply equally to HOA projects.
My HOA community is new, and my home is still under construction. Is now a good time to get started on a landscape design project?
When a home is incomplete, landscape designers rely on architectural drawings, site plans, surveys, and similar documentation to get a complete understanding of the site. Progress photos of the house, when available, are also useful, though not required. This documentation, along with the inspiration images, site video, and written feedback from clients is more than enough for one of our designers to develop a landscape design at the same level of quality as projects with completed homes.
After working with a landscape designer to complete your new design, you’ll be ready to submit it to your HOA for approval. Typically, an HOA approves a design for installation, then inspects it again upon the completion of construction.
Below, we’ll look at the most common questions about this phase of construction, approval, and design revisions.
Construction, Approval, and Revisions
What does my HOA need for approval?
In general, HOAs require design documentation indicating plant species, quantity, and placement, and the size, material, and design of paving, structures, and other hardscape features. HOAs may also request documents describing irrigation, lighting, drainage, or other aspects of a landscape design. There are no set standards – every HOA has its own unique landscape design documentation requirements.
Depending on the features involved in a design, HOAs may require construction drawings signed by an engineer or other qualified professional. Signed drawings are most commonly required when walls, decks, custom pergolas, or other large structures are a part of a landscape design.
Upon completion of installations, HOAs will usually do a site walk to ensure that all features were installed as described in approved design documentation.
How can I ensure that my HOA approves the design?
The best way to ensure HOA approval is to closely follow HOA regulations.
Respectful and active dialogue between the client, the designer, and, as needed, the HOA, also paves the way for successful project outcomes. A clear, shared understanding of what can be done within HOA regulations allows designers to develop designs with the highest likelihood of earning HOA approval.
If designs are not initially approved, they can always be altered. Quite often, HOAs only require slight adjustments to take designs from non-compliance to compliance.
Yardzen has a field-tested, efficient and effective method for working with HOAs. Below, we’ll explain the basics, and how to get the most from your Yardzen design experience when seeking a new landscape in an HOA community.
Working with Yardzen for an HOA Landscape Design
Does Yardzen work with HOAs often?
Roughly 30% of Yardzen clients live in a community with an HOA, and we have designed and installed many HOA-compliant designs.
Yardzen designers are very comfortable and experienced working with HOA regulations, and we are ready to design to whatever HOA regulations a client needs to follow.
What does Yardzen need from me and my HOA?
HOA projects are most successful when homeowners have a clear understanding of the rules that apply to their property before beginning the design process.
Yardzen clients set their designers up for success by providing them with a succinct summary of the HOA regulations that apply to the specific scope of their landscape design project (e.g. no fences within 10’ of the sidewalk, minimum 200 sq ft of permeable planted area, etc). Typically, clients share HOA regulation summaries through written feedback during the project onboarding process, or by emailing their design team.
Clients can also provide HOA-approved plant lists, materials palettes, or other succinct documentation for designers to reference during the design process. Long-form HOA documents can introduce inefficiency and delays into the design process, and are best reviewed and summarized by the client to maintain an efficient and successful design process.
Will Yardzen submit work directly to my HOA?
Yardzen will make sure your design follows whatever HOA regulations you instruct your designer to follow, and will document your HOA-compliant design in our standard deliverables: full color 3D renderings; 2D plan drawings showing plants, materials, dimensions, and lighting; and lists of plants, building materials, and design elements selected by your designer. Clients or their contractors can then submit these deliverables to the HOA for approval.
If my HOA requires architectural, engineering, lighting, drainage or irrigation plans, who provides those?
Sometimes HOAs require documentation for things that require the expertise of architects or engineers, which fall outside the scope of landscape designers.
When Yardzen clients work with a contractor from Yardzen’s Pro Network, their contractor will help them to connect with the necessary professional to produce additional drawings any time they may be required for HOA approval. Many times, the contractor can produce those drawings themselves.
If you need assistance navigating HOA documentation requirements, your Yardzen team is ready and able to work with you and your contractor to make sure you can get what you need to get HOA approval.
What if my HOA declines approvals for my design, will Yardzen revise my designs and plans complimentary?
Yardzen exists to help our clients reimagine their yards so they can spend more time enjoying life outside. We want your project to get built, and will work with you to make sure that happens.
When HOAs do not approve initial design submittals, we are happy to revise your plan drawings free of charge as often as is needed to achieve approval. Your contractor will often develop the necessary design adjustments themselves, but if assistance from your Yardzen designer is needed to resolve a design compliance issue, your designer and design team are happy to help.
If more extensive changes are required, let your Yardzen team know, and we’ll work with you and your contractor to develop the most efficient and effective solution to get you the design you need and keep your project moving forward.
My HOA has preferred contractors. Would they be able to use Yardzen’s plans to implement the design?
All Yardzen clients can take advantage of Yardzen’s Pro Matching service. Just let us know when you’re ready, and we’ll connect you with a licensed and vetted landscape contractor from our network of landscape professionals. All the contractors in Yardzen’s Pro Network consistently receive top ratings for customer service and professional excellence, and your project team will make sure we find the very best contractor to handle your particular project.
Because contractors in Yardzen’s Pro Network are accustomed to working on Yardzen projects, we recommend that our clients use them to install their Yardzen landscape designs. That said, if you prefer to use a different contractor, they should have no problem using the renders, plan drawings, and plant, element, and material lists that you receive with your Yardzen design to guide their installation work.
If any questions do arise during the installation of your design, you or your contractor may reach out to Yardzen and we’ll be happy to help you, be it reviewing a cost estimate, adjusting a design to deal with unforeseen site conditions, or any other issue that may arise.
CREATING AN HOA-COMPLIANT LANDSCAPE DESIGN TAILORED TO YOUR NEEDS
Yardzen’s award-winning online exterior and landscape design service is tailored to homeowners across the U.S.. Our design process begins with understanding your outdoor space, style, garden ideas, and a discussion of your budget and vision to minimize surprises when it comes time to build.
Our top-notch designers then develop a personalized vision for your yard, shared through 3D renderings, 2D plan drawings, and plant and material lists. Your design will capture the look, feel, and function you are hoping for, all while keeping costs within range.
Once your design is complete, we’ll help you connect with a local contractor from our Pro Network of vetted professional contractors to install your new design (if you don’t plan on a diy build or using an HOA-required contractor).
Want Yardzen to speak to your community? We’d be delighted to!
Have your HOA representative reach out to us to set up an information session + Q and A, where we’ll walk through the Yardzen process and packages, discuss how we’ve been able to work so successfully with HOAs, and answer any questions you may have for us.