PALM HARBOR, Fla. - Joy Yauslin has one of the greenest front yards in her neighborhood. It is always perfectly groomed and has no weeds.
And it doesn't need water.
That's one of the main reasons Yauslin, 73, paid $5,000 for an artificial lawn. She's the kind of person who collects rainwater in buckets to water her plants.
But the Wexford West Homeowners Association recently told her that the yard violates the community's deed restrictions. She has 30 days to rip it up or face legal action.
"I'm scared to death of their lawyer," she said this week.
In July, Yauslin had 1,200 square feet of FIELDturf brand synthetic grass installed in her front yard, using money she inherited when her mother died.
The turf was publicized during last spring's drought as a way to have a natural-looking, evergreen yard without violating Pinellas County's watering restrictions.
Yauslin has been happy with the turf, which requires no care other than a weekly application of weed killer.
"I love it, and my neighbors do, too," she said.
In a Nov. 20 letter, however, the homeowners association told Yauslin her yard is in violation of deed restrictions.
"More specifically, you are failing to maintain a sodded yard," the letter states.
The letter, copied to the association's attorney, gives Yauslin 30 days to come into compliance or face further action.
Yauslin doesn't want trouble. She has lived in the subdivision for 14-1/2 years. Her late husband served on the homeowners association's board of directors.
She said she loves her yard and spends at least 10 hours a week caring for her plants. But, she also admits to being frugal. She doesn't pay for yard care. She doesn't own a clothes dryer and won't permit showers lasting longer than five minutes in her home. So she is troubled by the thought of paying to install the turf, then ripping it out.
"The thought of paying to hire a lawyer bothers her too, but she'll do that before she rips it up," said Joy Nessola, 47, Yauslin's daughter.
Association board members say they have tried to be flexible with neighbors who have taken less permanent steps to deal with drought, even those with a brown yard full of dead grass.
"We have shown quite a bit of leniency in enforcing the sod requirements in times of drought, but if you don't enforce a deed restriction it becomes null and void," said Jim Lenox, the board treasurer.
Lenox said if Yauslin is allowed to keep the synthetic grass, it opens the door to people who want to use gravel instead of grass, or those who want to use other, less realistic forms of synthetic turf.
Between 40 and 50 homes in the Southeast have installed FIELDturf, said David Sheffer, president of Sarasota, Fla.-based AlternaScapes, the distributor of FIELDturf for this part of the country.
Sheffer said and he has not heard one other complaint from a homeowners association.
"Most people don't even realize it's not real grass," he said.
Yauslin admits her mistake may have been in not checking with the homeowners association before installing the grass.
"I understand they have rules," she said. "But rules can be broken."