Your association most likely has an Architectural Review Committee or ARC that handles approving homeowner renovations and exterior changes to enforce the deed restrictions.
These committees may have different names, such as the Modifications Committee (MC) or Architectural Control Committee (ACC) but are essentially the same thing.
The ARC is responsible for ensuring that any modifications, renovations, new structures, etc., meet the requirements outlined within the community’s deed restrictions to help the neighborhood remain consistent with the intended feel of the community. Ideally, approval is granted most of the time.
What do you do when a renovation is rejected and the homeowner appeals the denial or requests a variance instead of adapting their plans?
Many HOAs have struggled with this exact circumstance due to stubborn homeowners, lack of good communication about the concerns, or simply unprepared community policies.
Let's take a look at the best practices for handling architectural appeals or variance requests.
Know the Governing Documents and Local Laws
First and foremost, make sure you know just what criteria you must use to make approval judgments.
Know the guidelines and requirements outlined by the community’s governing documents, know the local laws so your rulings remain in compliance, and check to make sure the governing documents are still compliant with current local laws regarding legal (and illegal) building and renovation decisions.
Give Your Homeowners Clear and Current Renovation Specs
Don't leave anyone guessing! You can avoid a lot of confusion and conflict simply by having clear specifications for what will and will not be approved by the ARC, as well as what the process requires.
Give homeowners the information in a clear and digestible format. This will usually be in the application. The application should ask for basic details, but it should also outline the process and set expectations. Make these materials easily available online and easy to find.
Seek Opportunities to Approve, Not Deny
The ARC's goal should be to say "yes" to any attractive, safe, and legal home renovation plans. Denials should be approached as a chance to revise and appeal.
Propose Win-Win Compromises
Help your homeowners find win-win scenarios for ARC approval. Look for ways for the homeowner to be happy and the governing documents to be heeded.
Work with homeowners to find compromises and encourage them to get creative with ways to keep the home's appearance appropriate for the neighborhood while also building their property into a dream home.
Homeowners are much more likely to work with you rather than seek litigation if they see that your ARC is welcome to mutually beneficial solutions.
Be Flexible in the Face of Disability, Hardship, and Common Issues
Consistency and even-handedness are essential when granting variances, but you should also remain flexible to avoid undue hardship. This is especially true in the case of disability-related requests.
Banning a ramp may be inhumane but it is also likely illegal under fair housing. Work together to find a way to build a ramp that is appropriate for the area and for the homeowner.
If the prescribed modifications to the proposal would cause financial hardship (more expensive materials or designs) consider granting a variance to allow a compromise.
In cases where you are commonly issuing variances for a similar issue, it may be time to change the governing documents for a new era.
Allow Grandfathered Features Within Reason
Never punish homeowners whose renovations were approved at the time they were enacted. If the ARC changes its policies, this should not negatively affect homes as they are currently designed.
Remember, once something is allowed, other neighbors will want to be able to do the same. They will feel discriminated against if something was once allowed but is not currently.
Always have a good, specific reason for any variances or rule changes that occur. Communication and documentation are key.
The Board Can Override the ARC, If Necessary
Finally, it is always possible that the problems are coming from your ARC and not the homeowners.
Managing the architectural standards of an HOA neighborhood can be a complex issue, and committee members may have misinterpreted a requirement. Work with the ARC to open lines of communication between them, the board of directors, and the homeowners.
Consider newsletter articles or workshops to help homeowners understand the requirements and the ‘why’ behind the process.
Use a Software that Documents the Process and Protects the Association
Consider upgrading to software, like Ciranet, that documents the process and makes keeping great records easy. We can help. For professional community management insights or services, contact us today.