Architectual Regulations, Local Law, & You

One of the hardest things for members of common ownership communities to get used to, and the single most common cause of disputes between associations and their members, is the right of associations to regulate changes to units, houses, and lots.

All common ownership communities prohibit members from making changes to a unit, house, or lot without permission - in writing and in advance - from the association, This covers major changes such as adding a new room or garage, and minor ones like changing mailboxes or the color of the front door.

"Architectural control" is one of the major functions of a common ownership community. It is intended to preserve the original design of the community, make sure that the community and its homes are in good condition, and prevent unattractive changes to the lots and houses. It also preserves the values of homes in the community. Architectural control is written into the association's basic documents, which are filed in the land records, and they are legally binding on every member of the community.

The association documents declare that the board of directors has the final say on what changes are permissible in the community. If you make a change without permission from your association, the association probably has the right to make you remove the unapproved changes and to take legal action against you if you refuse. You might also be liable for the association's legal fees in such a case.

The association may give you permission to make a change, but you might also need to get a building permit from your local government. That is because you live under two sets of binding obligations. If you have a permit from the government to make a change, it’s not binding on your association; they can still reject the change even if the government approves it. You need permission from BOTH your association and, depending on the proposed changes, from your local government as well.

So if you want to avoid a very expensive mistake, you should first read the sections on architectural control in your governing documents, and any architectural rules & regulations that your association might have. Follow the procedures! You are more likely to get what you want if you apply for permission first, than if you go ahead without permission. Many architectural differences can be negotiated in advance and it is better to try to do so than to invest a lot of money into a structure that the association finds unacceptable.

FAQ’s about Architectural Control