One of the primary roles of the homeowner’s association is to help maintain property values. An important aspect of this is ensuring that homes look reasonably uniform; that is to say, making certain one homeowner doesn’t build a large, unsightly addition that stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the neighborhood.
In pursuit of this goal, most associations have an architectural review committee in place. Essentially, this is the group that is tasked with enforcing the community’s architectural standards. Before making any changes to their home, homeowners may be required to gain approval from the architectural review committee. Basically, this allows the HOA to maintain some level of control over modifications that people make to their homes.
The architectural review committee can play a significant role in guiding community life, and in helping the community association to fulfill its mission. With that said, it is crucial for any homeowners association to understand the responsibilities and the limitations of its architectural committee.
What is an Architectural Review Committee?
The basic function of the architectural committee is to see to it that homes in the community comply not only with relevant safety guidelines but also with architectural guidelines that have been agreed upon by the community. (Please note: The architectural review committee may also be called the architectural control committee; these terms are generally used interchangeably.)
The responsibilities of the architectural control committee are outlined in the community’s governing documents, specifically its cc rs. Additionally, the community’s governing documents will indicate who is or isn’t allowed to serve on the committee. (Note that the committee members will always be volunteer association members; the question is whether a member of the HOA Board can also serve on the architectural control committee. Often, especially in smaller associations, there is quite a bit of overlap here.) The HOA governing documents should clearly outline how members of the architectural committee are chosen, and also the roles they are meant to serve within the HOA.
One final note: Depending on when your association was founded, the association’s governing documents may refer to the architectural committee under a number of different names, including the environmental control committee, the landscape review committee, or even the art jury.
What Does the Architectural Review Committee Do?
Now, let’s take a closer look at the actual duties and responsibilities of this committee.
Most basically, the architectural committee oversees the process involving architectural review changes, or ARC. Before making any changes to the exterior of their home, members of the HOA must file an ARC application, which is assessed by the members of the committee to ensure it complies with the architectural guidelines. Again, the purpose of this review process is so that the HOA has some control over major home additions or modifications, and that they can prevent anything that will have a negative impact on property values.
Members of the architectural committee may be tasked with both processing ARC applications as well as reviewing and approving them. Additionally, the committee may have certain powers to adopt new rules or to refine existing architectural guidelines to make the ARC process more efficient; and, they can play a role in determining how ARC denials may be appealed by homeowners.
What Does the ARC Application Process Cover?
For homeowners preparing to submit an application to the architectural review committee, it may be helpful to know a bit more about what the ARC process entails. Basically, when submitting an application for architectural review, homeowners will need to supply the following information:
- The type of alteration they are proposing
- The purpose or function of any new additions to their home
- The types of materials they will use for the modification
- Paint colors or finishes that will be used for the modification
- Blueprints, plans, or other detailed drawings
- Credentials for the contractor or remodeler
- Any permits that are required by the city or municipality
- A rough/estimated timeline for the project’s completion
The members of the architectural review committee will go over all of this information, evaluating it thoroughly to determine that the proposed modification or addition meets the community’s architectural guidelines.
How Much Power Does the Architectural Committee Have?
Both homeowners and HOA Board members should have a clear understanding of the architectural committee’s scope of power; that is, what this committee is authorized to approve or to reject.
The specific powers of the committee can vary from one community association to the next, and it is always a good idea to review the terms in the cc rs. With that said, the architectural committee is generally authorized to make decisions about any exterior modification that could impact the overall look or aesthetic of the neighborhood, including any additions or modifications that would compromise uniformity or look out of place.
For example, in order to maintain the visual harmony of the association, an architectural committee may impose standards regarding the height of new structures; they may place limitations on colors and materials used; and they may issue guidelines pertaining to the proximity of a structure to the road.
In some cases, the committee may also prevent home modifications or additions that obscure views of the mountains, the lake, the ocean, or other natural features.
What’s Included in the Architectural Guidelines?
A community’s architectural guidelines can provide a lot of important information to homeowners and to committee members; these guidelines, outlined in the cc rs, are intended to streamline the ARC process and to be certain that architectural standards are upheld and enforced fairly and uniformly.
For example, the guidelines will usually indicate the time frame committee members have to review new ARC applications. (The standard is 30 days, but again, this can vary from community to community.) The guidelines may also indicate how the committee is to inform applicants as to whether their request has been approved or denied (e.g., by mail).
The guidelines can also stipulate that, when a request is denied, the committee must include detailed information about why the request was denied. The purpose of this is not only so that the rules are enforced fairly, but that homeowners have the opportunity to amend their plans in order to meet the committee’s approval.
In rare instances, a homeowner may make changes to their home without seeking approval; or, they may move ahead with a modification despite their ARC application being denied. Such matters should be addressed with hearings and potentially with disciplinary actions. This may require the guidance of the HOA management company or even the HOA attorney.
One final note is that the committee members, as well as the HOA Board, have a responsibility to communicate clearly and honestly with the HOA membership as a whole. Be sure that everyone in the community understands why these guidelines and approval processes exist, and that they see how the existence of architectural committees is ultimately in their best interests as property owners. The last thing your HOA needs is for the community to be distrustful or resentful of any architectural committees it has in place.
The Importance of HOA Architectural Guidelines
To summarize our points in this article:
- Most community associations are going to have written architectural standards, enforced by a committee designed to ensure architectural control over new building additions or modifications.
- The role of the HOA architectural process is not to be onerous, but rather to maintain visual harmony throughout the neighborhood, enabling the HOA to be successful in its mission of preserving property values.
- Before making exterior additions or modifications, homeowners should field architectural requests to the relevant committee. The members of said committee then have an obligation to respond within a set amount of time.
- All relevant stipulations about the approval process should be included in HOA governing docs, including the cc rs.
- Having an architectural review process is really critical for any HOA. If your community does not have clear, consistent standards or approval processes, it may be time to consult with your management company.
If you have any questions about the role of the design review committee, we welcome you to reach out to Kuester Management Group. We are an HOA management company with decades of experience, and we are actively providing HOA management services in Charlotte, NC as well as in the Myrtle Beach area. Our job is to help HOAs run smoothly and efficiently, a mission that often includes working to develop, update, or enforce HOA architectural guidelines. We are here to help when you need us. To find out more, reach out to Kuester Management Group at your next available opportunity.