More than four years after a Purcellville-area HOA hit one of its members with an order to mow a 2-acre meadow on his property, a Loudoun Circuit Court judge this week ruled that the meadow may remain.
Just two days before the dispute was set to go to trial, the HOA rescinded its order to compel Mike Pugh to mow a section of his backyard that he has established as a wildlife habitat.
Without trying the facts of the case, Judge Douglas Fleming ruled that the Farmington on the Green Homeowners Association could not re-issue an order.
Fleming has yet to decide whether the HOA will be responsible for reimbursing Pugh for more than $90,000 in legal fees that he’s racked up since 2014. “The best I can do is recover my costs,” Pugh said.
Fleming’s ruling came two days after the HOA rescinded its mowing order, which it initially sent Pugh in January 2014 and required him to “mow and maintain the full expanse of lawn in [his] backyard.”
According to the HOA’s motion to dismiss the case, it rescinded the order because it intended to review its covenants to clarify property maintenance requirements based on community needs and resident input.
The HOA emailed residents a day after the ruling, writing that “[Pugh’s] property remains non-compliant with the HOA covenants” and that it would be working with its lawyer to ensure that its Exterior Maintenance covenant “is updated to clearly reflect our collective expectations for our neighborhood.”
In an earlier email, it also wrote that “the only real loser is a homeowner who has their greatest asset diminished by a non-compliant neighbor.”
According to the existing Exterior Maintenance covenant, “each owner shall keep each lot owned by him … in good order and repair and free of debris, including but not limited to … the mowing of all lawns, the pruning and cutting of all trees and shrubbery.”
HOA President Marcus Lopez said that the covenants were written a few decades ago with a lack of rigor or precise wording. “It was loosely written so we’ve loosely enforced it,” he said.
Pugh said he expects the HOA to try to amend the covenants in a way that would require him to mow the meadow. He said that he would stay “actively engaged with the HOA” and try to be a part of any and all covenant-review committees.
According to Lopez, all community residents, including Pugh, will have a vote in any covenant amendments.
Pugh’s battle with the HOA began in fall 2014, when he filed the lawsuit to protect his meadow—a term Lopez said Pugh made up after neglecting to mow the area. Pugh, however, argues that the meadow’s soil has been undisturbed since the land was part of a dairy farm in the 18th century. It now provides a natural habitat for deer, foxes, hawks, monarch butterflies, milkweed and other plant and wildflowers.
After four years of pretrial negotiations, the HOA declined to put a lien on Pugh’s property or impose a fine, but continued efforts to enforce the mowing order.
The next HOA meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 21.