Associations are normally created with an initial architectural and landscaping theme which boards are responsible to protect and preserve. Condominium association boards are also expected to protect and preserve common area. Therefore, owners are usually prohibited from changing the exterior appearance of homes, or altering common area, without association permission.
Before making a change to one’s home, a homeowner in a California common interest development may wish to consider the following tips to enhance chances of a successful proposal.
Begin by checking the CC&Rs and association rules
Is the change the kind which requires association permission? Planned development associations are usually mainly concerned with changes to home exteriors or landscaping. However, condominium associations present the additional important issue: Is it common area? Common area in condominiums is typically more than most homeowners understand – it is usually defined by the recorded Condominium Plan as everything behind the paint on the walls and ceilings, and the floor under the carpeting. So, in condominiums, changing interior doorways or interior walls may be a change to common area, requiring association permission.
Check the association’s architectural and landscaping rules
Do not waste time proposing something outside the approved landscaping or color schemes.
Homeowners who decide to follow the bad advice that “it is better to ask forgiveness than permission” can create a disaster. One example is the 2010 ruling of Clear Lake Riviera v. Cramer. In that case a homeowner built a two-story home, despite CC&Rs limiting homes to single story. The HOA sued, and the homeowner was ultimately required by the court to dismantle the second story and return the house to a single level. Furthermore, associations successfully suing to enforce the governing documents will normally also receive awards of attorney fees against the homeowner (Civil Code 5975(c)).
Review the association’s written architectural modification policies. Civil Code 4765 requires associations to have a fair and reasonable written policy which is distributed annually.
Applications should be complete
Include copies of product information, measurements, sketches, and a full description of the proposed modification so the association can understand the proposal. If the work requires a contractor, provide the contractor’s licensing, workers compensation and liability insurance information. Assure the association that any necessary city permits will be obtained and that work will occur only during business hours and not on weekends.
Discuss the proposal with nearby neighbors
Many associations require that neighbors be notified, in case of any neighbor objection to the proposal.
Make sure the proposal is consistent with the community’s architecture, both as to style and color. Individuality and creativity don’t work well in associations, for which visual harmony and consistency are key values.
If the association denies the application, that denial must include an explanation of the reasons, pursuant to Civil Code 4765(a)(4). Denials may be based upon reasonable but subjective factors in the association standards, under the appellate court’s 2000 ruling in Dolan-King v Rancho Santa Fe. Sometimes association responses will impose conditions or suggestions by which the proposal might be modified and accepted.
Associations protect all neighbors, including you, by denying alterations deviating from the community’s esthetic scheme. It may be a creative, artistic and even beautiful idea, but if it doesn’t fit, it isn’t neighborly. The next creative idea might be your neighbor’s proposed purple garage!
Kelly G. Richardson Esq., CCAL, is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and a Partner of Richardson | Ober | DeNichilo LLP, a California law firm known for community association advice. Submit questions to Kelly@rodllp.com. Past columns at www.HOAHomefront.com. All rights reserved®.