HOA Architectural Guidelines And Review: What You Need to Know

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Every community has a set of HOA architectural guidelines that dictate what owners can and can’t do to their homes. While the specific standards in these guidelines can differ from one HOA to another, they generally all have the same goal: preserving property values in the association.

What Are HOA Architectural Guidelines?

Architectural guidelines are a set of rules or standards that regulate the design and improvements of a home. Also known as HOA architectural standards, these guidelines can be found within the governing documents of an association.

The objective of these architectural guidelines is to maintain uniformity in the neighborhood. A community with a consistent aesthetic or look tends to have a higher curb appeal. After all, no one wants to see a bright neon yellow house in a row of cool-toned blue houses. When curb appeal is high, property values also remain high.

It is worth noting that architectural guidelines must be consistent with federal and state laws. Otherwise, the rule is unenforceable. For instance, an HOA may not prohibit homeowners from installing all forms of satellite dishes, as that would directly violate the federal OTARD Rule.

Common HOA Architectural Design Rules

No two associations will have the same architectural guidelines. This is because these guidelines can change depending on the style and character of the community. One community may want to maintain a more colonial look, while another may opt for a contemporary design.

Here are some of the more common homeowners association architectural standards you will find.

  • Homes must be painted a specific color or shade.
  • Fences must not exceed a certain height.
  • Driveways must be made from a specific material.
  • Doors and windows must follow a certain style (e.g. colonial, Gothic, art deco, etc.).
  • Roofs must be made from a specific material.
  • Sheds are not allowed or strictly regulated.
  • Homeowners must secure approval from the HOA board or Architectural Committee prior to any alterations or additions.

HOA Architectural Committee Guidelines

The Architectural Review Committee (ARC), also known as the Architectural Control Committee or simply Architectural Committee, is a committee responsible for all architectural-related matters in an HOA. Depending on the association, this committee usually consists of volunteer homeowners and one or two board members leading the charge.

In general, the ARC bears the following duties:

  • Manage the application and approval process for architectural modifications;
  • Inspect the community for violations of the HOA architectural guidelines;
  • Enforce the architectural standards fairly and consistently;
  • Make decisions about compliance with the architectural standards;
  • Offer recommendations to the HOA board regarding architectural matters;
  • Regularly review the architectural guidelines to ensure compliance and adequacy; and,
  • Educate homeowners about the guidelines, including any changes to the guidelines.

Larger communities are more likely to have an ARC. This is because these communities tend to have more properties and residents to manage. As such, HOA boards can’t preside over everything.

Additionally, in some associations, the ARC can only make recommendations to the board. In these associations, the board retains the power to make the final decision on architectural requests and violations. It is important to check your governing documents to understand the scope of authority an ARC has.

Understanding the HOA Architectural Review Process

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More often than not, homeowners must go through an application or review process before they can make any changes to their property. This process aims to ensure compliance with the HOA architectural guidelines. The exact steps of the review process can vary from one association to another. Your governing documents should provide you with the necessary information.

Generally, the architectural review process follows the steps below:

1. Application

In the first step, homeowners must apply for approval from the ARC. This involves completing any forms and submitting all required documents. Typically, the ARC will ask for the following details and documents:

  • A description of the property as well as its location
  • Specifications of the project (shapes, materials, plans)
  • A blueprint or sample rendering of the final result
  • Work schedules
  • Details about the contractor, including licenses and insurance information
  • All relevant permits and surveys

Most guidelines provide an HOA architectural review checklist that homeowners can reference. This will help expedite the review process and increase the approval chance.

2. Committee Review

Once the homeowner submits all required documents, the ARC will commence a review. Reviews usually occur at regularly scheduled committee meetings.

The committee has a fiduciary responsibility to review the application following the guidelines of the association. Sometimes, though, the governing documents will permit variations in certain situations, such as cases of severe hardship. This allows the committee to approve a modification or addition not in line with the architectural standards.

3. Decision

The ARC will then either make a decision or provide a recommendation to the HOA board. Normally, the CC&Rs will require the ARC and the board to produce a decision within a specified timeframe. However, this is not the case for all associations.

In some communities, the governing documents allow homeowners to file an appeal if they receive a denial. This appeal must usually be filed within a set number of days following the board’s initial decision.

Violating Architectural Review Committee Guidelines

As explained above, the ARC monitors the community for any architectural violations. When a homeowner breaches an architectural rule, they typically receive a warning letter from the committee. This letter usually includes an opportunity for the owner to remedy the violation without incurring any penalties. 

Additionally, the letter should include a chance to settle the issue through alternative dispute resolution. The violation can also come with a fine.

In some states, HOAs are required to abide by certain procedural guidelines before taking disciplinary action for violations. For instance, Texas law requires associations to provide notice with certain details before issuing a fine. Other states allow homeowners to attend a disciplinary hearing before suffering a penalty.

Remember that not all HOAs may be able to issue a fine. In some states, the law expressly gives this authority to associations. However, an HOA must turn to its governing documents in other states where the law is silent. It is important to be careful, as acting outside the HOA’s scope of authority can lead to legal liability.

For Everyone’s Benefit

While they can be frustrating to some owners, HOA architectural guidelines are critical in preserving property values. It is necessary to abide by these guidelines to prevent violations and penalties. After all, in the end, the homeowners stand to gain from higher curb appeal and property values.

Landmark Community Management can streamline architectural reviews for HOAs and condos in Texas. Call us today at 512-569-5527 or contact us online to learn more!