Common Questions Involving “Material Alterations” In Homeowners’ Associations
As attorneys who regularly represent homeowners associations and property managers, we frequently get questions about what the board can do with and without membership approval. These types of questions ultimately come down to distinguishing between what is and is not a “material alteration.”
The general rule is that if the proposed change is a palpable change to the appearance, function, or use of the association property and/or its common element, it constitutes a material alteration. If a homeowners’ association wants to make a material alteration, it must first obtain membership approval. Some examples of material alterations that require membership approval include painting the color of a common area (such as a clubhouse), or placing carports over parking spaces.
What About Landscaping?
There are sometimes questions in the gray areas, such as changes to landscaping. Typically, landscaping decisions are not considered to involve material alterations, and are thus left up to the board’s discretion. This includes decisions involving whether or not certain plant species should be replaced with others, or whether shrubs or vegetarian can be moved, changed, etc.
However, there are limits to these changes: Any landscaping alterations that result in a significant change could constitute a material alteration. One example might be a complete change in landscaping themes throughout the complex; this is significantly different from, say, making minor adjustments to the size, color, etc. of certain plants on the property.
What about Security Camera Installations?
When it comes to whether or not individual homeowners can install security cameras, this kind of decision typically falls into a different category than material versus non-material alterations. This will depend upon whether or not lot owners are generally permitted to install security devices and/or cameras, and under what circumstances (i.e. typically if they are, it is only for security purposes, etc.). If a lot of owners are permitted to do so, the association documents will typically require that the association approve the installation first.
In addition, if association documents address camera installation, it may be a wise decision—as an association— for that association to work with an attorney to also preemptively address any potential conflicts between those neighbors who want to install them and those who might be concerned that camera installation could constitute an invasion of privacy rights by addressing questions that might come up with respect to those cameras in the documents. One option to preemptively address potential disputes like these is for association documents to very specifically describe where they can and cannot be placed, as well as what directions they can point in, so as to ensure that they are not pointed outside of public spaces where individuals have a higher expectation of privacy.
Skilled Florida Homeowners’ Association Attorneys
At HD Law Partners, our homeowners’ association attorneys serve clients in Orlando, Sarasota, Tampa, and surrounding areas of Florida. We provide the knowledgeable, proactive legal representation you can count on. Contact us today with any questions you might have about property interests and association decisions.