State laws and/or homeowners association documents typically prohibit homeowners from making any alterations to their separate interest and/or common areas without prior board or architectural review committee approval. The purpose of imposing the review process on homeowners is to ensure compliance with the aesthetic standards that are called for in the association’s governing documents. Such standards are necessary to maintain consistency and architectural integrity of the development in an effort to preserve property values.
An association’s architectural standards, or guidelines (1) [view sample form], are contained in the association’s governing documents such as the declaration, or CC&Rs, and/or separate rules or policies that supplement the provisions contained in the CC&Rs. Such standards set forth the association’s policies and procedures (2) [view sample form] that are required to be followed in connection with alterations, modifications and/or improvements that a homeowner desires to make to their separate interest property and/or common area or exclusive use common area within the common interest community. To facilitate compliance with the standards, associations will typically create a committee of persons (architectural review committee) who are appointed by the association’s board of directors to review homeowner requests relative to alterations, modifications, and improvements (3) [view sample form], and to either approve or disapprove such requests or make a recommendation to the board relative to approval or denial of the request.
Understandably, architectural review committees (4) [view sample form] have become an integral part of the operations of a homeowners association and, as such, they are frequently the source of controversy and litigation relative to the decisions they have made concerning a homeowner’s requested alteration, modification or improvement. Many associations mistakenly delegate authority and/or allow their architectural review committee to adopt additional procedures or rules that homeowners must follow in order to process their requests that are directed to the association’s architectural review committee. Because typical declarations and/or CC&Rs vest the authority to make rules that elaborate on the association’s governing documents in the association’s board of directors, the adoption of all such policies and rules must be by the board of directors and not the architectural review committee. The committee can make recommendations, but the board adopts the policies and rules that are to be followed. Thus, architectural review committees do not have the power to impose stricter standards relative to homeowner requests than the standards that are specified in the associations governing documents.
Irrespective of whether an architectural review committee makes a recommendation or a decision on a homeowner request to make an alteration, modification or improvement, the ultimate final decision on the request is made by the association’s board of directors. Thus, the association’s board of directors can either accept or reject a recommendation made by the architectural review committee. If the association’s governing documents empower the architectural review committee to make a decision on a homeowner request, the board of directors still retains the ultimate decision make authority by: (i) being vested by state laws and/or the governing documents with the power to reconsider and reverse the architectural review committee’s decisions through an appeals process implemented by the homeowner; and (ii) having the power to override a decision by the architectural review committee that is contrary to provisions contained in the association’s governing documents.
For more effective operations and to minimize controversy between homeowners and the association, association boards of directors and members of association architectural review committees should have a clear understanding of the provisions contained in their state statutes and all provisions contained in the association’s governing documents relative to architectural standards including, but not limited to, the requirements for the submittal of owner applications for alterations, modifications or improvements, guidelines for approval or rejection of such applications, and the procedure for reconsideration of their decisions.
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