As a board member, you know that homeowners need to get approval from the HOA before they begin home improvement projects. This is known as the architectural review process. Either the board or a specifically designated committee, usually called the architectural control committee, is responsible for granting project approvals or denying requests. Additionally, an HOA’s management company, such as Spectrum Association Management, can assist with this process.
But what, exactly, does this process entail, and how can the board ensure project requests are handled efficiently and fairly? Here, we’re going to cover the basic architectural review process, as well as some of our tips for working with home improvement requests.
The ACC Review Process
Let’s begin by covering the process, step by step:
The homeowner compiles their home improvement request packet, which typically includes the homeowner’s contact information, a project description, plat maps, the project location, paint samples, materials to be used, the dimensions of the finished project, and the estimated start and end dates of the project.
The homeowner submits their improvement request to the HOA. This could be done by mail, email, or an online form that guides the homeowner through the submission process, depending on the technology available to the HOA and the homeowner’s needs.
The HOA reviews the packet. After the HOA ensures the packet has all the required information, the community’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) are reviewed to ensure that the project will comply with the community’s rules.
The HOA makes a decision concerning the project submission. If it complies with the rules in the CC&Rs, it is approved. If the project does not comply with governing documents, the HOA can either issue a variance or deny the request.
If a homeowner is given a variance, they have been granted special permission to complete a non-compliant project, typically to meet a homeowner’s needs (such as a wheelchair ramp) or to make up for unfair circumstances (such as an oddly shaped lot that would not permit the homeowner to build an otherwise compliant deck). On the other hand, if the request is denied, the homeowner is not allowed to complete their project.
The HOA then sends a written response to the homeowner (such as a letter or email) that alerts them of the decision on their project. The time the HOA has to respond to the homeowner regarding a home improvement request varies based on the HOA’s governing documents, but is generally around thirty to sixty days.
If the homeowner is dissatisfied with the HOA’s decision on their home improvement request, they can revise and resubmit the request. The homeowner may also be able to appeal the decision, but this depends on state law and the governing documents.
That’s the basic architectural review process, but we’re not finished yet. There are several tips and guidelines the board can follow to help this process go smoothly and easily for the HOA and homeowners alike.
Ensure Requests Are Complete
First, homeowners should be made aware of everything they need to submit in their packet and what details the HOA will need to make a decision. Many times, home improvement requests are postponed or denied because essential information is missing.
Furthermore, if an HOA does go ahead and approve an incomplete and/or vague request, the HOA has given a homeowner permission to complete a project that may turn out to be noncompliant.
Some commonly forgotten parts of the home improvement request packet include:
This to-scale map of the homeowner’s property is typically included with the home’s closing documents, which the homeowner receives upon purchasing their house. If they can’t find the plat maps, they can ask the title company for a copy. The homeowner should mark where the project will be located on a copy of this map and include it in their packet.
When building structures, homeowners need to include the height, width, and depth on the submission packet. Often, CC&Rs will place restrictions on the peak height (from the ground to the highest point), and not the wall height, for such structures. So, it is important to check the governing documents and inform the membership appropriately.
Brands and Product Names
Anyone who has read a home improvement request that said the homeowner wanted to paint their house “orange” knows how frustrating the absence of product brands and names are. The homeowner’s “orange” can be one of hundreds of different shades, and without the paint brand and name of the specific shade, the HOA has no way of knowing if the paint color is compliant or not. Including a paint swatch or sample in the request is the simplest way to provide this information.
The project description needs to include exactly what types of changes will be made in what areas of the lot and with what materials. So, if a homeowner submits a request to build a side porch, they need to include the bench that will run along the edge and the type of wood to be used, as well as the roof that will provide shade and the ceiling fan that will cool the deck area. Anything not listed in an approved project request does not have the green light it needs to be completed.
Know the Rules
Additionally, the board and architectural control committee need to be aware of the specific rules that apply to how and when home improvement requests need to be completed.
First, the HOA will have a deadline by which it needs to respond to a homeowner’s request (such as fourteen days or thirty days), and if the deadline is not met, the request may either be automatically approved or automatically denied. An automatic approval of a project that is blatantly against the HOA’s governing documents, such as painting a house hot pink and highlighter yellow, can negatively impact property values.
Second, some CC&Rs may have complex restrictions for home improvement projects, such as the distance projects need to be from fences, the materials that can be used for projects, the precise brands and shades of paint that are allowed, and the types of plants permitted in the community. Those in charge of reviewing homeowner requests should be very familiar with both the review process and the community’s restrictions.
Reviewing home improvement requests is not an easy feat – especially in larger neighborhoods! However, ensuring both your review team and the homeowners understand the process and what makes an effective and complete request packet will go a long way in making project reviews more efficient.
To better aid you in this endeavor, SpectrumAM has an ACC One-Touch program, where our ACC coordinators automatically decide on the particular requests included on a list of project types pre-approved by the board, such as like-for-like replacements and repairs.
If you’d like to learn more about the architectural review process, reach out to the SpectrumAM team or check out the knowledge base on our website. Just type your question into the search box on the homepage.