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Grass wanted: East Boise HOA threatens lawsuit over synthetic turf lawn

Two East Boise homeowners are gearing up for a potential court fight over their front lawns, or a lack thereof. 

This spring, Ken Fox and Florian Penalva took stock of the drought and the long hours required to maintain a lawn during the summer months and decided to take a different tack. The business partners, who also both live in a Barber Valley subdivision that is part of the East Valley Community Association HOA, decided to rip out each of their lawns and replace them with bright green turf.

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They were pleased with the look of their new chemical and maintenance-free yards until a letter arrived from the HOA saying it violated the subdivision’s rules. The HOA is now threatening legal action to push them to return to traditional grass.

This is happening while water levels on the Boise River are close to record lows after a lack of spring rains and weeks of record-breaking temperatures evaporating more of the valley’s water supply than normal. Now, irrigation could shut off for the year a month early, and Suez urges customers to conserve.

“It turned out, of course, that this year was extremely hot and a drought,” Fox said. “But of course, we ended up with nice-looking lawns while many or most of our lawns in the neighborhood look awful because they’re all burned up from the heat.”

What qualifies as a lawn?

In May, Penalva pitched the idea of turf in his yard after he used it at his business with much success. He asked Fox if he would like to get in on a lower price to get the work done, and landscapers started ripping up the grass to install the turf. Fox said this prompted a letter from the HOA telling the two property owners to stop to get permission to continue installing.

Penalva lives in the subdivision full time, while Fox shuffles back and forth between this Barber Valley home and another residence in Ketchum.

Fox and Penalva looked over the CC&Rs for the subdivision and saw the only regulations for the lawn required it to be “full sod, no hydroseed” and did not ban turf lawns, so they proceeded. They reasoned that the term “full sod” doesn’t necessarily require the lawn to be alive, just a full covering of the lawn surface in front of the home with grass of some sort. The HOA responded with a letter informing them that they had contracted with a local landscaper to remove the turf from their lawns if they didn’t do it themselves.

A comparison of the turf lawn next to natural grass. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

A flurry of letters went back and forth for a few more weeks until a letter from attorney Patrick Galloway arrived on the HOA’s behalf. It said that unless Fox and Penalva removed their turf and replaced it with natural grass or submitted an application for their turf for the HOA board to review, a lawsuit would be filed against the two men. They were also instructed to pay back the $285 in legal fees incurred by the HOA, according to the letter obtained by BoiseDev.

Galloway told BoiseDev in an email that owners like Fox and Penalva should run for the board of their HOA if they would like to make changes. ‘

“The matter you are referencing is a pretty standard case,” he wrote. “Most communities require live vegetation for landscaping. Our office represents hundreds of community associations. I suspect most communities in Idaho would not allow artificial turf to be installed in the front yard.”

Galloway’s letter to Fox and Penalva cited the HOA regulations requiring permission from the HOA to complete any improvements to their homes, including landscaping.

A tussle over a shed

This isn’t Fox’s first run-in with the East Valley Community Association.

Last summer, Fox contacted the HOA to start the process of building a shed in his backyard. He said he filled out the proper paperwork, and the project was denied because the shed, which Fox said would have protruded one foot over the fence, was too large. He cut down the design and resubmitted to negotiate with the HOA again over the next month. Fox said the shed was ultimately approved, but under the condition that he plant a row of trees to block the view of it from the street.

He didn’t build the shed because the trees and redesign added significant cost to the project, so Fox abandoned it. However, he did spread the word about the encounter with the neighborhood. This left a sour taste in his mouth and motivated him to install his turf lawn instead of applying for permission for the improvements from the HOA.

“I then wrote a letter to the other homeowners describing what had happened to me with this shed and that they ought to consider that the next time there’s an election for board members because this is how these people are going to try and control what you can do with your property,” Fox said. “I mailed it off to all of the 140 or so members of the association.”

Correction: A previous version of this story did not properly identify Florian Penalva’s full-time residence. The article has been corrected to reflect that he lives full time in East Valley.

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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