Homeowners’ Associations & Exterior Changes
On July 6, the Washington Post featured an important article on homeowners’ association rules governing exterior changes, and why it is important that they be followed. Many owners ignore processes put in place by an association’s architectural control committee, even though the association’s declaration of covenants requires advance approval before additional or changes can be made—approval processes that are in place for every homeowners’ association, and for good reason.
While the scope of each of these architectural committees varies depending upon the association, most associations have them in order to preserve balance and uniformity within the association. Before each individual owner does any exterior work, they typically have to seek advance approval from this committee so that the committee can preserve a harmonious design for the community and protect the value of the property itself.
While individual owners may disagree with the concept of external uniformity, if the association documents require it, it is binding. This is why it is so important for owners to take a close look at these documents before buying into an association.
Outside of exterior work, the board of directors also typically reserves the right to review any major construction occurring within a unit so as to ensure that licensed contractors are being used, the proper permits have been obtained, and there is adequate insurance in place to cover any potential mishaps.
… As Long As the Guidelines Are Proper
Courts have upheld the power of covenants to be valid and enforceable against individual owners as long as they are clear and spell out the standards. This requires more than just writing in that owners must obtain written approval from the architectural committee before making exterior changes; but rather, putting forth very specific guidelines so that both the owner and those conducting the review have actual objective standards by which to compare the proposed change.
This is why homeowners’ associations want to ensure that they work with an experienced homeowners’ association attorney in their area, who knows how to ensure that the covenants are properly developed and articulated in accordance with what the law requires. These specific guidelines are either automatically contained in association documents, or they are drafted and approved by a majority of the homeowners.
Properly Applying the Rules
When it comes to individual homeowners contesting architectural standards, the following rules must be applied in order for the association to prevail:
- The standards must be applied consistently, fairly, and in good faith. If the committee chooses not to enforce a particular covenant in one case, it may be prohibited from doing so in another;
- The committee must act swiftly in addressing any issue or deviation from the standards (i.e. it cannot wait six months, for example, to file suit against unauthorized construction). The association documents will frequently dictate how long the committee has to make a given decision on these types of issues.
Florida Homeowners’ Association Attorneys
Homeowners’ associations will often spend a considerable amount of money in litigation that could have been avoided had they simply consulted a homeowners’ association attorney in drafting their association covenants and guidelines. For assistance in ensuring your association is protected, contact our Florida homeowners’ association attorneys at HD Law Partners today.