When trying to decide if an architectural change request should be approved, an HOA will generally look to the association’s architectural standards to help them make a fair and subjective decision.
Every HOA board has a fiduciary duty to do what’s best for the entire association, not just one member, which is why a request to paint a front door bright pink would almost certainly be denied. The association must maintain the overall look and feel of the development in order to preserve its value and to help ensure that one home won’t stand out from the rest. Therefore, the association’s authority to establish and enforce architectural standards is based upon the impact that aesthetics could have on the property values of the association’s members. But, that doesn’t mean homeowners are forbidden from making any exterior changes at all.
If a member would like to make a change, such as build a deck or start a vegetable garden, they must submit an architectural application to the association for approval. Keeping track and responding to all of these requests can be tricky, especially since every request will be a little bit different. How do you make sure that each decision is made in a timely, and just manner?
Below, we will share some tips that HOAs can use to improve the architectural change request process for everyone.
Create clear written standards
If you don’t have clear written architectural guidelines and application processes that are easily accessible to all of your members, it’s time to make some changes. By creating specific rules about architectural changes and requirements, you are far less likely to get requests that completely disregard the guidelines that have been informed by the association’s CC&Rs, bylaws, and rules and regulations. This means spelling out, for example, how tall fences can be, what materials can be used, how wood fences should be treated, and any responsibilities the homeowner must fulfill once the fence has been built or modified.
In addition to outlining what changes are and are not acceptable, architectural guidelines, also known as architectural standards, establish the procedures through which a homeowner may obtain the association’s approval for architectural changes, improvements, or modifications.
Without guidelines, it would be very difficult for anyone to know what the criteria would be. The guidelines provide much-needed information to homeowners, and they make the entire approval process fairer. If a homeowner asks, “why can’t I install an above ground pool,” the association can refer to the guideline about pools, and say, “that’s why.”
Boards or committees must also follow a uniform process when processing applications. For example, if an application is not approved, the applicant must be informed of the decision (in writing), and must also receive an explanation as to why the application was disapproved. The board or committee should also describe the procedure through which the applicant may request reconsideration of the decision by the board.
Architectural standards are operating rules which may impose additional architectural restrictions beyond those contained in an association’s CC&Rs. Written well, they can really help minimize potential conflicts and misunderstandings between homeowners and board members, as well as the number of incomplete requests submitted by residents.
Assemble a reliable architectural committee
Architectural committees are responsible for reviewing, approving (or disapproving) architectural applications, and making recommendations to the board.
The architectural committee is often made up of members who are not on the board. Some HOAs may require the existence of an architectural committee, while it may be a choice for other associations.
The committee may operate independently of the board, but it’s never a bad idea to let the board have some control when it comes to architectural change requests. In rare cases, disputes can end up in court or arbitration, and if the committee has acted alone, the members will be responsible for defending the association. The board should still be available to guide the architectural committee, and make difficult decisions about unique architectural change requests.
Architectural committee members are volunteers, just like board members. As such, the board should select members who are prepared to put in the work, who understand the importance of following architectural guidelines, and who have strong communication skills. A good team has the potential to lighten the workload for an HOA board, and they may even find ways to improve the approval process for the community.
Give your residents choices
Rather than explicitly saying, “no, you can’t do that,” create acceptable options for homeowners to work with. So, for example, instead of providing a list of plants that are not acceptable in the HOA, tell homeowners which types of plants are permitted. This will make the approval process easier for the committee or board, and it will make most homeowners happy, too.
Automate the approval process
Make decisions online and save time. Property management software can help boards make decisions more quickly, without having to meet in person. This can be extremely useful considering there are strict time limits as to when an applicant must receive a decision about an architectural change request.
Condo Control Central’s Architectural Change Requests feature enables homeowners to submit architectural change requests online. They can also include photos or even videos to help them explain why the change is needed.
Board and committee members have the power to approve or decline requests with the click of a button. Their decisions are automatically registered, and authorized approvers can also leave detailed explanations about why they decided to approve or decline a request.
All requests are stored in one safe location, making it easier to process, manage and organize architectural change requests.
Remember that the rules can change
Architectural guidelines should help maintain the uniformity and value of the community, but there needs to be some room for flexibility, too. Things have probably changed a lot since your guidelines were first created, and what was written five, ten or maybe even twenty years ago, may not be applicable today. For example, some HOAs are really specific when it comes to roofing material and colour. But there have been many advancements in roofing materials, and there are likely new (and better) solutions that haven’t yet made it to the list of acceptable roofing materials. There is a formal process to amending or adding architectural guidelines, but HOAs should go through these steps every so often to ensure the guidelines are serving the community and the people who live in that community.
Architectural guidelines are a component of an association’s operating rules; they are created and amended by the board of directors. That means the board must follow procedural requirements when adopting or amending architectural guidelines, such as providing the membership with adequate notice of a proposed change to the guidelines. If any of the guidelines are changed or amended, make sure to inform the HOA about the new changes.
With good communication, a well-organized processing system, and a dedicated architectural committee, managing architectural change requests becomes less stressful. It’s important to apply the same standards to all requests so that the process remains fair. Not all requests can or will be approved. In these cases, do your best to explain to the applicant why the request was denied, and offer an alternative option to their initial request.
Download our free architectural change request form