Property Management Professionals (PMP)

When you might need HOA permission

Dr. HOA,
A few weeks ago, I planted some grass and a few small trees in my front yard. Now, I’ve received a violation notice from my HOA for not submitting an architectural application prior to installing new grass and a few small trees in my front yard.

I thought an architectural application was only required if I was doing home improvements to my house. Is it typical for HOAs to require an architectural application for landscaping? What if the association doesn’t like my new landscaping? 
 — Jordan V. 

The short answer is “Yes.” Most associations require homeowners submit an application to an architectural committee for review and approval prior to permitting a homeowner to commence almost any improvement to their property, including landscaping.

Every association has a different set of rules and policies detailed in the association’s governing documents, so I cannot speak to your association’s specific requirements. But nearly all associations have architectural or home improvement requirements, which are typically referenced in the association’s covenant’s, conditions and restrictions, or CC&Rs. These are often further elaborated in a separate set of rules and regulations or architectural guidelines for many communities.

As a member of an association, you’re not only encouraged, but also obligated to review and understand the community’s governing documents and strictly adhere to the rules, requirements and regulations.

Your association’s governing documents should include a detailed description of the architectural review process.

Understandably, reading through these documents is both daunting and confusing to many homeowners.

If your association has a professional management company, I encourage you to contact its office and ask them to highlight and explain the specific language that outlines the architectural guidelines, as well as the review process. Your manager should be able to provide excellent guidance to walk you through the process.

More often than not, your association will have appointed an architectural committee, composed of homeowners, whose primary responsibility is to review and consider architectural applications based on the association’s guidelines.

In the absence of a formal architectural committee, the association’s governing documents will typically enable the board of directors to serve as the architectural committee.

If your improvements are consistent with the community’s design guidelines, municipal requirements and the overall “theme” of the community, there should not be a problem obtaining approval. I always encourage associations to ensure that their design guidelines are specific and thorough to limit subjectivity in the review process.

Ultimately, if you receive an unfavorable decision by your association’s architectural committee, governing documents typically allow homeowners to appeal the decision to the board of directors. Again, you will have to confirm this by reviewing your association’s specific policies.

It is also important to note that after a homeowner submits a completed architectural application, most associations have a roughly 30- to 45-day review period to reach a formal decision, so please plan accordingly and give yourself sufficient time for the review process before you jump into that next home-improvement project.

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