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What You Should Know About HOA Architectural Standards

Many HOAs provide policies and procedures for architectural improvements, modifications, or changes to homeowners’ properties. In fact, HOA’s are actually required to adopt written procedures for reviewing architectural applications. The procedure must provide prompt deadlines for review by the association. The procedures must be included in the association’s governing documents, i.e., the rules and regulations or architectural guidelines. (Civ. Code §4765(a)(1).) Those rules are often called “Architectural Guidelines” or something similar and they establish the HOA’s application process, specifications, and other requirements for such changes. Those guidelines are often contained within the HOA’s Rules and Regulations, or even in a formal architectural standard. For example, an HOA may provide specific paint colors that can be used on the exterior of a home, height restrictions, wood flooring installation methods, etc.

The reason HOA’s provide these rules are twofold: (1) maintaining a consistent and harmonious neighborhood character, one that is architecturally and artistically pleasing, confers a benefit on the homeowners by maintaining the value of their properties. (Dolan-King v. Rancho Santa Fe.); and (2) preserving the aesthetic quality within a development protects property values within the community. (Cohen v. Kite Hill.)

To ensure these architectural standards are clear and fairly enforced, they should include detailed written standards for each aspect that is being regulated. For example, paint colors, roofing materials, fencing, landscaping, etc. The standards should require a specific written process for application and approval. For example, many HOA’s require that homeowners submit a written plan for proposed work, sometimes prepared by an expert contractor such as a roofer, flooring specialist, or architect and engineer for larger project. The architectural committee, or whoever the board gives authority to oversee these proposals, will review the application, seek further details as needed, and approve or reject the application. Sometimes, the HOA will condition the approval of the project on specific contractor rules. For example, HOA’s sometimes restrict construction on holidays, within certain hours, or that the contractor obtain certain insurance for the work.

The architectural decision must be in writing. If an application is denied, the committee must provide an explanation for the disapproval and the procedure. Civ. Code §4765(a)(4).)

But, what happens if your HOA has vague architectural guidelines, or worse, none at all? What if you follow all the architectural guidelines, but the HOA still rejects your proposal and won’t tell you why? What if you submit an application, but the HOA never responds? The attorneys at LP+C LLP have experience advising clients and dealing with all of these issues. When your HOA is playing games with your project, we can help.