This article originally appeared in the March 2024 edition of Quorum.

Do you ever look out of your window and wish you didn’t have to spend all that time and money maintaining your classic green lawn? Do you dream about your yard being filled with local plants and more birds, butterflies, and bees? If you’re a Maryland resident, then you may be in luck.

The story begins in 2017, when a Maryland couple who had spent many years cultivating a pollinator garden on their property received a notice to cease and desist from their homeowners association. The homeowners association demanded that the couple replace their entire garden with grass consistent with the homeowners association’s governing documents. The homeowners sued.

After three years of litigation, the case was eventually settled, and the couple was able to retain most of their garden. But the issue had legs and got the attention of the Maryland General Assembly.

In 2021, the Maryland General Assembly enacted House Bill 322, prohibiting common ownership communities (cooperatives, condominiums, and homeowners associations) from imposing unreasonable limitations on low-impact landscaping –including a ban on requiring residents to maintain turf grass altogether!

What exactly is low-impact landscaping?

Maryland law defines low-impact landscaping generally to mean landscaping techniques that conserve water, lower maintenance costs, provide pollution prevention, and create habitat for wildlife. Low-impact landscaping includes:

  • Bio-habitat gardens and other features designed to attract wildlife
  • Pollinator gardens and other features designed to attract pollinator species like bees, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, beetles, wasps, etc.;
  • Rain gardens and other features that use natural biological principles to return rainwater to the soil and to filter rainwater of excess nutrients; and,
  • Xeriscaping and any other forms of landscaping or gardening that reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation. For example, using xerophytic plants like cacti and succulents or other landscaping techniques that reduce water use.

Can my association prevent me from having low-impact landscaping in my yard?

In Maryland, a community association cannot prohibit or impose unreasonable limitations on low-impact landscaping on a lot. An unreasonable limitation includes a limitation that significantly increases the cost of the low-impact landscaping, significantly decreases the efficiency of the low-impact landscaping, or requires cultivated vegetation to include, in whole or in part, turf grass.

That said, community associations may adopt reasonable design and aesthetic guidelines to regulate the type, number, and location of the low-impact landscaping features. Community associations should work with their landscaper and legal counsel to determine what type of guidelines to implement for their community.

Does this mean my neighbor’s front lawn can grow wild and free?

Not exactly. While residents cannot be prohibited from maintaining low-impact landscaping on their property, they are still obligated to maintain and regularly tend to their landscaping.

Can residents maintain low-impact landscaping wherever they want?

Residents may only maintain their low-impact landscaping on an area they own or have the right to exclusive use of, and they must maintain and regularly tend to the landscaping. Residents cannot, for example, have their low-impact landscaping encroach on their neighbor’s property, the common/shared areas, or public sidewalk.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes- these restrictions and protections do not apply to historic properties that are listed in, or determined by the director of the Maryland Historical Trust to be eligible for inclusion in, the Maryland Register of Historic Properties.

Read the full article in the March 2024 edition of Quorum

Nura Rafati is a community associations attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer. For more information, contact her at 301-657-0730 or [email protected]