By: Joe Winkler
Homeowners associations provide a structured set of standards that are in place to protect property values. As part of living in a well-organized community that is overseen by a homeowner’s association, you’ll have to seek your HOA board’s approval before making certain changes to your property. When, exactly, do you need to get approval? Read on to find out.
Your governing documents hold the answers
Since every association is unique, the instances when you must seek HOA approval and the approval process itself varies by community. However, the specifications are always outlined in these important governing documents:
- Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs) stipulate when you need to obtain approval
- Rules & Regulations outline the type of changes you can make to your property and the specific guidelines under which you must operate
- Architectural Guidelines provide information regarding architectural changes. Architectural guidelines are probably part of your community’s Rules & Regulations. If not, they are likely in their own separate document.
Before starting to brainstorm any changes to your home (inside or outside), review your community’s governing documents. If you’re not sure how to obtain your community’s governing documents (note: you should have received a set when you moved in), your management company can provide you with a copy. Your manager can also walk you through the details and answer any questions you may have along the way.
How can you tell if you need approval?
Though every community is different, we generally tell people this: you need to get approval any time you change anything anyone can see (and sometimes things people can’t see). Some common examples of visible changes are: painting the exterior of your house, planting new landscaping, installing solar panels, replacing your garage door or front door, replacing your roof, parking an RV in your driveway or in front of your house, or anything that block’s your neighbor’s view.
Less obvious changes (that will likely still require approval): planting trees in your back yard (that may grow above the fence line; therefore, your neighbors will be able to see), changing your yard’s irrigation system, installing a pool, or replacing your back patio cover. Nearly all of these changes require approval from your community’s Architectural Control Committee or HOA board.
In general, the governing documents that apply to single family homes provide a little more latitude and a wider breadth of permissible changes. Condominiums usually have stricter requirements that allow for smaller scale changes. In all instances, guidelines vary by association and city.
Let your governing documents shape your vision
For construction projects or other aesthetic upgrades, keeping your community’s guidelines in mind as you begin planning can help you make choices that fall in line with your community’s standards from the get-go.
So, begin with your governing documents. Understand the requirements for materials, size specifications, construction start/stop times, parking restrictions, etc. Each community has a unique set of restrictions by which you must abide. In some areas, architectural guidelines are very technical and detailed. Others are about generally “looking nice,” which can be a more subjective (and open-ended) interpretation.
Involve your contractor early on and put the onus on them to help draft a design that will work within your community’s guidelines. For example, 80-90% of the homes in Southern California are part of homeowners associations, so area contractors have lots of experience navigating HOA requirements. Coordinate a meeting between yourself, your contractor and your property management company to make sure everyone gets on the same page before submitting any architectural review application.
Always check first
Your state may have enacted legislation to support certain types upgrades with rebates or tax breaks. For example, California offers rebates on drought tolerant planting or solar paneling installing and, as a result, many homeowners mistakenly assume that just because something is mentioned in state legislation, they don’t have to obtain HOA approval. However, approval from your HOA board is most likely still mandatory. Even though your HOA may not have the authority to deny your general request to install drought tolerant landscaping, they may have the authority to regulate the types of rocks, trees and foliage you plant. Save yourself the expense and trouble of having to start from scratch by submitting an application through your HOA’s appropriate channels.
Build approvals into your timeline
It usually takes about 30-45 days to receive approval on an application from an architectural committee. Since approvals must be included on the agenda for the next board meeting, 30 days is generally the minimum. Of course, if your application is rejected, you will need to re-submit—and the calendar re-sets at Day 0. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to carefully review your proposed changes with your property manager to make sure all requirements are met before submitting an application to your board.
Remember, governing documents are never set in stone. If you find that specific guidelines no longer apply to your community, ask your community manager about initiating the process of updating your rules and regulations. In the meantime, crossing your “t”s and dotting your “i”s before you get started will save you the time, trouble, and expense of inadvertently violating your community’s standards and having to begin again.
About Joe Winker: Joe Winkler, CMCA, is an accomplished and creative marketing executive with proven success in marketing projects, public relations, operations and sales with over 10 years of professional community management experience. As Vice President of Marketing for Keystone Pacific Property Management, Joe is responsible for building and maintaining relationships with industry professionals.