Most homeowners associations have an architectural review committee. But, what exactly does this committee do? Do they hold absolute power over architectural changes in the community?
What Is an HOA Architectural Review Committee?
An architectural review committee (ARC) consists of members responsible for maintaining the architectural standards of the association. Most homeowners associations have a set of standards when it comes to the architectural design and structure of homes. You will typically find these standards within an association’s CC&Rs or bylaws. The ARC is simply in charge of enforcing those standards.
The ARC goes by many names, including but not limited to:
- Architectural Committee
- Architectural Control Committee
- Landscape Review Committee
- Design Review Committee
- HOA Architectural Review Board
You might wonder why there is even a need for architectural standards. You see, homeowners associations are responsible for maintaining the community’s appeal and property values. To accomplish this, the HOA must enforce rules that strictly regulate how homes can look, as aesthetics greatly contribute to a neighborhood’s curb appeal.
Responsibilities of an Architectural Review Committee
The duties and responsibilities of an ARC will depend on your association’s governing documents. Typically, though, this committee covers the following:
- Reviewing any applications for architectural alterations or additions
- Recommending actions (approving or rejecting the request) to the HOA board based on the association’s architectural standards
- Monitoring for any architectural violations
- Enforcing the association’s architectural guidelines
- Assessing the association’s current architectural standards and making suggestions for changes to the HOA board (if necessary)
Powers of an Architectural Review Committee
Your association’s governing documents will usually outline the ARC’s scope of authority (i.e. what they can and can’t do). Some HOAs have ARCs that make the final calls on architectural applications, while others reserve that power solely for the HOA board. In the latter’s case, the committee’s role is to simply review applications and recommend a decision to the board based on the architectural standards of the community.
The powers of an ARC will also depend on the type of community association you have. For instance, in condominium associations, there are no exterior architectural alterations to be made. Therefore, the ARC’s role will usually cover interior modifications, including alterations to the plumbing and electrical systems. It may also include some exterior items such as the placement of EV charging stations, solar panels, and satellite dishes.
Assembling an Architectural Review Committee
There are some associations that don’t rely on a separate committee to enforce architectural standards. Instead, the job falls on the HOA board’s shoulders. Most of the time, though, the work is delegated to an ARC.
Much like the HOA board, positions on the ARC are largely filled on a volunteer basis (i.e. from members of the community). Many times, some of the board members will also be on the committee, acting as chairs.
It is important to carefully select the members of the ARC, though. Committee members must know the association’s architectural guidelines and processes like the back of their hands. They should strive for continuous growth and learning as well as be open to feedback.
Beyond everything else, committee members should have a passion for serving their community and must always put the community’s best interest first. It is best not to have committee members who only joined to serve their own interests (such as have their own architectural requests approved).
What Are Architectural Guidelines?
An association’s architectural guidelines are used by the ARC as a basis for approving or rejecting architectural changes. It is basically a set of standards that architectural modifications or additions must meet in order to pass. You will typically find these guidelines within your governing documents.
Keep in mind, though, that architectural guidelines can vary from one community to another. These guidelines are usually tailored to the association’s aesthetics, needs, and nature. For example, one HOA may only allow a certain type of material to be used for roofing, while another may allow a broad range of materials.
Of course, your community’s architectural guidelines must never conflict with federal, state, or local laws. In the event they do, the law will obviously take precedence. Both the HOA board and the ARC must educate themselves on the different laws that apply to them. This way, the association can avoid breaching the rights of homeowners and prevent potential liability.
Here are some of the federal or state laws you must remember when setting architectural guidelines:
Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The federal Fair Housing Act and its state equivalents prevent housing discrimination based on a number of factors, including a person’s disability. For instance, if an owner wishes to install a ramp on the outside of their home to accommodate their disability, the HOA must allow it. Rejecting the owner’s request, in this case, can result in liability on the association’s part.
Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule (OTARD)
The federal OTARD rule prevents homeowners associations from prohibiting the installation of antennas or satellite dishes. But, HOAs do have the ability to restrict certain aspects of the installation, such as the size and placement of the device. Rules that make it unreasonably harder or more expensive for the owner, though, are typically unenforceable.
Solar Access Rights
Some homeowners associations don’t allow the installation of solar panels because of the way they look. But, in many states, restricting access to solar energy is considered unlawful. Examples include California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida.
Following the Architectural Review Process
While the architectural review or application process can differ from association to association, it should generally include the following steps:
1. Complete an Application Form
As with many procedures, the architectural review process starts with a form (or forms). Having a standardized form makes it easier to review each application objectively and systematically.
Aside from the owner’s information, this form should ask for the following details:
- The type of modification or addition
- Why the owner is requesting the modification or addition
- Sample plans or designs
- Materials and color of paint to be used for the change
- The information of the contractor to be used
- Timeline for completion of the project (including start and end dates)
- Necessary permits
- Additional project details (case-to-case basis)
When creating your application form, make sure to use clear terms. Don’t use complicated language or jargon. Make it easy for owners to fill out while still obtaining all the information you need to make a decision.
2. Review the Proposal
After receiving the application, the architectural review committee should then evaluate the proposal. This usually takes place during a formal meeting.
Committee members must review each application from an objective standpoint, using the association’s architectural guidelines as a basis for judgment. If there is a need for additional documents, the committee should make a request to the applicant instead of outright rejecting the proposal.
3. Make a Recommendation
Finally, after reviewing the application, the committee must make a decision. As previously explained, this last step will depend on the exact powers of the ARC. The committee may make the final call or may simply recommend a decision to the HOA board, who then has the final say.
Most associations have a set deadline for getting back to the requesting owner. Typically, the committee has 30 days to provide a response (approval or denial of the application). For rejections, it is common to explain the reason behind the decision and any steps the applicant can take for reconsideration.
It is also important to maintain a record of all applications as well as response letters. These records can serve as a reference for future decisions or even during legal proceedings.
Sharing the Burden of the ARC
The architectural review committee assumes a huge responsibility in an HOA community. It is the body in charge of evaluating architectural modifications or additions. For many HOA boards, overseeing the activities of the ARC on top of fulfilling their other duties can be too much to handle.
This is where Clark Simson Miller comes in. Our HOA management company can help your board with day-to-day tasks, including lending a hand to the ARC. Call us today at 865.315.7505 or contact us online to request a proposal.
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