HOA Architectural Review Committee: Is It Fair And Effective?

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The HOA Architectural Review Committee plays a central role in the success of HOA operations. This committee helps maintain community standards, though it has also received criticism for its perceived overreach and unreasonable regulations. Should HOAs have this committee in the first place?

What Is the HOA Architectural Review Committee?

The HOA Architectural Review Committee (ARC) is a group within an HOA responsible for overseeing and approving changes to the exterior of properties. These changes can include anything from landscaping alterations to major structural modifications. 

The ARC ensures that all modifications comply with the community’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) and maintain the neighborhood’s aesthetic harmony. Other names for this committee include the Architectural Control Committee and the Design Review Committee.

What Is the Purpose of an Architectural Review Committee?

The primary purpose of an ARC is to preserve the visual and structural integrity of the community. Architectural Review Committee responsibilities include:

  • Reviewing architectural change applications and recommending decisions to the HOA board
  • Maintaining property values by ensuring uniformity and quality in architectural standards
  • Preventing actions that may negatively affect the community’s appearance or safety
  • Enforcing the HOA’s CC&Rs to ensure that all modifications align with established community guidelines
  • Reviewing and recommending changes to the HOA architectural review guidelines as necessary

The ARC aims to protect homeowners’ collective investment by regulating property changes and uphold the community’s visual appeal.

Architectural Review Committee Guidelines

Architectural committee guidelines can vary from one association to another. However, they should generally tackle the scope of authority, compliance with governing documents, decision requirements, and reconsideration options.

Scope of Authority

State laws and the HOA’s governing documents, particularly the CC&Rs, define the committee’s scope of authority. These documents describe what types of modifications require approval and the criteria for assessment. Typically, the ARC’s authority extends to:

  • Exterior alterations (e.g. painting, roofing)
  • Structural changes (e.g. additions, fences)
  • Landscaping changes (e.g. tree removal, garden installations)

In condominiums, the scope of authority can extend to elements such as balconies, hardwood flooring installations, plumbing and electrical modifications, and even EV charging stations. 

It is important to note that architectural rules can’t conflict with federal and state laws. A good example is the OTARD Rule, which prohibits HOAs from banning satellite dishes and antennas.

Compliance With Governing Documents

The ARC must comply with the association’s governing documents. While covenant compliance falls under the ARC’s responsibilities, local code compliance does not. 

This committee is not responsible for securing permits and ensuring compliance with building codes or local ordinances in place of homeowners. Homeowners will need to carry out such tasks on their own or with the help of a contractor.

Decision Requirements

According to Civil Code Section 4765, the HOA must “provide a fair, reasonable, and expeditious procedure” for decisions on architectural changes. Additionally, the ARC must make its decision in good faith and reasonableness. Capricious or arbitrary decisions would go against California law.

Disapproval and Opportunity for Reconsideration

When an application is not approved, the ARC must provide clear reasons for the decision, referencing specific guidelines or regulations. The decision and the reasons behind the denial must appear in writing for homeowners to read.

Additionally, homeowners have a right to request a reconsideration. The instructions for applying for reconsideration must also be written in the same decision letter. Homeowners can then submit a revised application addressing the committee’s concerns.

This process ensures that homeowners can make their case and receive approval upon meeting the necessary criteria.

Meeting Minutes

Maintaining detailed meeting minutes is essential for transparency and accountability. Minutes should record the reviewed applications, the decisions made and their justifications, and the attendance and votes of committee members.

It is important to remember that committee meetings are not subject to the Open Meeting Act of California. Therefore, committee meetings need not be open to homeowners. However, it is essential to keep minutes, as these records provide a clear audit trail in the event of disputes and appeals.

Who Can Join the HOA Architectural Review Committee?

In general, any homeowner within the community may apply for membership and join the ARC. However, some associations may have certain qualification requirements or preferences.

When looking for Architectural Review Committee members, the following qualities are ideal:

  • Experience in architecture, construction, or related fields
  • An interest in community standards and aesthetics
  • A commitment to fair and unbiased decision-making

The HOA board usually appoints the committee members who serve for a specified term. Their role requires a balance of technical knowledge and understanding the community’s values and priorities.

How to Create and Manage an HOA Architectural Review Committee

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Forming an ARC is a good way to delegate responsibilities and encourage homeowner participation while maintaining architectural integrity. It is particularly beneficial for larger communities, where HOA boards can’t handle the many tasks alone.

Here is how to create and manage an HOA Architectural Review Committee.

1. Establish the Committee

Creating an ARC begins with the HOA board drafting an HOA architectural committee charter charter. This charter should clearly outline the committee’s purpose, scope, and operating procedures. 

It should also define the committee’s responsibilities, authority, decision-making, and appeal processes. Furthermore, it should specify the terms of service for committee members, including how long they will serve and how they can be replaced or reappointed.

The charter serves as a foundational document that guides the committee’s actions and provides transparency to the homeowners. Board members must periodically review and update this charter to reflect changes in community needs or governing documents.

2. Recruit Members

The recruitment process for ARC members should be transparent and inclusive. The HOA board should seek volunteers from within the community with relevant expertise or a strong interest in maintaining the community’s standards. The recruitment process should be advertised through various communication channels, including meetings, newsletters, and the HOA website.

The HOA board should evaluate potential members based on their qualifications and commitment to the association. Avoid any semblance of bias, favoritism, or personal feelings. This will help ensure the committee consists of volunteers acting in the community’s best interests.

3. Plan Training and Orientation

Once selected, new ARC members should undergo training to understand their roles and responsibilities. This training should cover the HOA’s CC&Rs and the committee’s procedures for reviewing and approving applications. It should also include information on handling conflicts of interest and ensuring fair decision-making.

Orientation sessions include workshops, presentations, and discussions with experienced committee members. This helps new members become familiar with the community’s standards and expectations and get used to their role’s technical and procedural aspects.

4. Establish Operating Procedures

The ARC should establish clear application review procedures, including submission requirements, decision timelines, and communication protocols. To ensure transparency, these procedures should be documented and accessible to all homeowners.

For example, the committee might require homeowners to submit detailed plans, specifications for their proposed modifications, and any necessary permits. The ARC should have a set timeline for reviewing these submissions and making decisions so homeowners can receive timely responses.

Communication protocols should include how the ARC will notify homeowners of its decisions and provide reasons for disapproval. In California, such choices and reasons should be made in writing.

5. Ensure Ongoing Management

Effective management of the ARC requires regular meetings, clear record-keeping, and periodic reviews of the committee’s processes. The ARC should meet regularly to review applications and discuss any issues or concerns. Meetings should also include minutes.

Periodic reviews of the ARC’s processes can help identify areas for improvement, allowing the committee to operate effectively and efficiently. The ARC should also welcome feedback from homeowners, using this input to make any necessary procedure adjustments.

Is an ARC Fair and Effective?

The fairness and effectiveness of an ARC depend largely on how well it adheres to established guidelines and operates transparently. A well-functioning ARC can benefit an HOA community by maintaining property values, ensuring aesthetic consistency, and preventing disputes. 

However, challenges can arise if the ARC does not consistently apply the guidelines or if they are ambiguous. Problems can also crop up if the ARC does not exercise impartiality or lacks the necessary expertise to perform its duties.

Important Nonetheless

The HOA Architectural Review Committee is vital in maintaining an HOA community’s visual and structural integrity. By regulating property changes, the ARC helps preserve property values and ensures that modifications comply with the community’s standards and aesthetic preferences.

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