Winter is over and spring has finally arrived! For many homeowners this means that the time has come to begin thinking about home improvement projects. Installing gardens, refreshing landscaping, expanding patios, constructing sheds, and house painting are common spring and summer projects. For associations, and their architectural review committees, this could mean an influx of design review requests.

To prepare for the season it is prudent for associations to review their architectural review process and documents. The goal is to ensure that: (i) design review requests are processed in a timely manner so that homeowners can move forward with their projects; and (ii) proposed projects are approved and/or denied on a uniform basis consistent with the requirements of the community’s governing documents and applicable laws.

Below are some tips to ensure your community’s architectural review process is ready for the season!

Architectural Review Forms and Checklists

Associations should periodically review their design review application forms. These are the applications submitted by homeowners detailing their proposed projects. Having clear, complete, and user-friendly forms can help ensure the association and homeowners have a consistent understanding as to both the review/approval process as well as the scope of the project itself.

Below are recommended issues to be addressed in the design review application forms that are submitted and signed by the requesting homeowner.

• An acknowledgement that written approval from the association is required before any work on the project begins.

• The details of the proposed project such as materials, location, colors, dimensions, drawings, etc.

• A timeline regarding the commencement and completion of the work.

• A disclosure that architectural approval from the association does not constitute approval from the municipality and that homeowners are solely responsible for complying with all applicable laws, ordinances, building codes, setback/zoning restrictions, and any permitting requirements.

• A provision specifying that the homeowner will not undertake any work inconsistent with the approved design review application and that the homeowner will allow a reasonable inspection upon completion of the project.

• An acknowledgement that failure to comply with the association’s architectural standards and the approved design review application will result in the association’s withdrawal of approval and a requirement that the homeowner return the property back to its prior condition.

• Confirmation that the homeowner will not alter the intended grading or drainage of the property without prior written permission from the association.

• A statement that the homeowner will be responsible for any damages caused to common elements or adjoining property.

• A disclosure that architectural approval from the association is not a guarantee as to safety or structural soundness and that it is the homeowner’s responsibility to confirm proper engineering design and construction as well as to ensure that work is performed consistent with manufacturer’s recommendations and industry standards.

It is also prudent for the association to have an internal checklist to help process design review applications in a uniform manner. Below are items to consider including on the architectural review checklist.

• Document the date the design review application was received by the association and any associated response deadlines.

• Is the design review application complete and signed?

• Does the application contain all required information concerning the proposed project such as materials, location, colors, dimensions, drawings, etc.?

• Has a timely written response been sent to the homeowner approving the application, denying the application and providing explanation, or indicating that the application is incomplete and additional information is needed in order for the association to review the application?

Architectural Guidelines and Policies

As communities age, associations are faced with technological advancements and shifts in homeowner design preferences. There has also been a series of recent legislative activity related to association architectural issues. As a result, associations are facing new and different architectural requests, laws, procedures, and restrictions.

Associations can embrace these changing times by periodically reviewing and updating their design guidelines. If the guidelines are more than a few years old they should be reviewed. The review should be aimed at confirming that the guidelines address current community needs and also comply with new statutory requirements.

In addition, associations should develop policies to comply with recent changes in law. Below are descriptions of some common policies that can serve as a roadmap for compliance with the association’s architectural guidelines in the context of recent statutory requirements.

• Solar Panels. This policy should address the requirement to allow solar panels on property owned by the homeowners, an association’s ability to adopt regulations concerning the dimension, placement of external appearance of the solar devices, and the timeframe required to respond to solar installation requests.

• Xeriscaping. This policy outlines the requirement to: (i) allow xeriscaping, including the definition of xeriscaping and turf grass, (ii) allow use of nonvegetative turf grass (i.e., artificial turf) in the rear yards of homes, (ii) allow vegetable gardens in certain communities, and (iv) address other water-wise landscaping plans and requirements.

• Signs/Flags. This policy sets forth the requirement to allow flags, flagpoles, and signs on the homeowner’s property including windows and balconies, and the ability of the association to adopt content-neutral regulations such as the permissible number and size of signs and flags.

• Electric Vehicle Charging Stations. This policy clarifies the procedure for submitting and obtaining approval for EV charging stations, locations where EV charging stations can be installed, and the responsibility for costs to install, use, and maintain the EV charging station.

If you have questions concerning your community’s architectural review process or would like to discuss having the association’s design guidelines or policies reviewed, please contact one of our attorneys at 303.432.9999 or [email protected].

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