VOLUME 7RSetting Up a Community Garden Without Violating the Rules
By Eric Lyerly, Esq.
Community gardens offer many benefits to renters, including access to nutritious food, the beautification of property grounds and increased opportunities for social interactions with neighbors. But tenants should know how to establish a shared garden without violating condominium owners association (COA) rules, lease agreements or relationships with neighbors. Here’s what to do.

Group Garden: Know the Condo Board Rules
COA rules will dictate how tenants may use shared spaces. Residents living in multi-unit buildings will likely not be permitted to take their garden hoes and start tilling an unused section of grass. Rather, tenants will need to know the landlord’s rules permitting the creation of a community garden beforehand. If the landlord doesn’t already specify how to go about starting this shared garden, then the rules may need to be reviewed by the COA board. Once the request is submitted to the landlord, then the tenant should wait to find out if the COA board chooses to adopt or reject the request.

As a preliminary matter, renters should decide whether they would like to establish a garden with communal or individual plots. If renters choose the latter option, then determine how plots will be assigned.

Likewise, renters should establish basic rules for the garden, including dates for the gardening season, acceptable plants, maintenance requirements, and prohibited conduct (e.g., stealing crops, using manure as fertilizer, allowing pets in the garden).

Single-Family Home Garden: Verify the Lease
For renters of single-family homes, lease agreements will control whether tenants can establish a community garden. Some lease agreements disallow alterations to landscaping.

As with COAs, renters should seek written permission from their landlords before setting up a community garden. If renters create one without the landlord’s permission, they could be in violation of lease restrictions against landscape alterations.

Be Garden-Friendly With Neighbors
Just because renters have the option to create a community garden doesn’t mean they shouldn’t check with neighbors. Nearby residents may oppose a community garden for a variety of reasons. For example, they may dislike the look of the garden, or they may be concerned that their cats or dogs will consume toxic plants.

And even if the pets stay away, that doesn’t mean the pests and bugs won’t lurk around. If physical barriers and companion planting (growing spices that repel pests) are not incorporated, fruit and vegetable plants (especially apples, cabbage, cauliflower, onions and tomatoes) are a magnet for worms, maggots, mites and beetles.

If a renter’s shared garden interferes with neighbors’ ability to enjoy their property, they might be entitled to bring a nuisance action to enjoin the activity. Frequent use of power tools, manure or pesticides in a community garden are also common reasons that may trigger this action.

Other Community Garden Concerns
Not all residents will enthusiastically endorse a shared garden or even get along during the cultivation process. However, understanding the gardening rules and policies—and abiding by those rules and policies—will help the neighborhood be prepared for the garden. It will also help alleviate one of the most common neighborhood concerns surrounding shared gardens: the maintenance and aesthetic of the property.