Architectural committees: Does your HOA need one?

Date Published : Jun-05-2020

Written By : Phillip Livingston

Before they start any exterior home improvements, homeowners usually need to get approval for their project from the association. Improvements and modifications are not arbitrarily approved or denied, rather, they are regulated by the association’s architectural standards or guidelines.
Someone has to administer the HOA’s architectural guidelines and manage the application/approval process, which is where the architectural committee comes in.

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An architectural committee is typically charged by an association’s CC&Rs with the exclusive task of implementing architectural guidelines in order to maintain aesthetic standards within the community, and preserving the value of the development.
There are several different names for this committee, including the:

  • Architectural Committee
  • Architectural Control Committee
  • Architectural Review Committee
  • Art Jury
  • Alternations Review Committee
  • Design Review Committee
  • Environmental Control Committee
  • Landscape Review Committee

Though they have many different names, these committees generally have the same responsibilities.

What does an architectural committee do?

Every HOA is unique, but no HOA board is exempt from its fiduciary duty to care for and act in the best interests of the association. Having governing rules and bylaws in place (including established architectural rules) helps ensure that the HOA meets this duty.
Managing and maintaining an HOA is a lot of work, and although it is ultimately up to the board to ensure the community is properly cared for, committees can help ease the workload and minimize tasks for busy board members. Members of the architectural committee, for example, help maintain the aesthetic and structural integrity of the association. They are partially responsible for enforcing the CC&Rs, and any rules that deal with architectural issues.
The architectural committee reviews applications for modifications, additions, or architectural changes in the community, and may make recommendations to the board. However, the board may still have the final say about these types of requests.
When a homeowner wants to build a deck, paint their fence, or build a shed, or if a project that was already approved suddenly changes, detailed plans must be sent to the architectural committee first to make sure they are in compliance with the association’s design standards. The application may require the homeowner to include information such as the colour and brand of paint they intend to use, blueprints/sketches of the structure they intend to build, or the specific materials they intend to use for the project. The homeowner may also have to provide an estimated start and completion date, and agree to certain directives if the project is approved.
If the committee does find any issues with the application, they will let the homeowner know what the issues are, and will try to help them come up with other options.
Depending on the size of the association, the board may handle the duties of the architectural committee, or a separate group of members may operate as a committee. Some CC&Rs contain provisions that mandate the formation of an architectural committee separate from the board of directors, so check with your governing documents first to ensure your committee is following the rules.
Architectural committees are typically comprised of volunteer association members. Members meet regularly to make decisions about architectural change requests, discuss ways that application/approval processes could be improved, etc. The meetings of an architectural committee are not board meetings, and therefore are not subject to the requirements and restrictions contained in typical open meeting Acts. Many HOAs will require the architectural committee to keep and maintain minutes of its meetings though, and to make the minutes available for review by the association’s members within a certain amount of time.
The architectural committee looks out for the entire community. Aside from stopping residents from painting their homes bright pink, keeping Christmas lights up all year long, or paving over their front lawns with asphalt, the committee makes sure that the size and style of each project aligns with the overall look and feel of the community, and adheres to the association’s architectural requirements. Not only does this keep the development looking cohesive, it also helps to keep values of each home up by preventing individual structures from standing out.

Does every HOA need an architectural committee?

Before you make a decision about whether you need an architectural committee, check your governing documents to make sure you are not required to have one.
If you do have a choice, it may be worth it to create an architectural committee. Committees can be an invaluable resource to the board, and the entire community, because they perform work that would otherwise be hard for the board to take care of. That being said, the committee needs to be comprised of volunteers who are prepared to do the work, and these volunteers will still require some guidance from the board. Boards should fully understand the extent of the architectural committee’s authority, and the extent of liability the committee could potentially create for the HOA.

Play by the rules

For an architectural committee to be effective, the members need to have a strong understanding of applicable architectural rules and guidelines so that they can make informed decisions when they are reviewing requests and applications. They should be familiar with any provincial/state rules governing architectural and aesthetic reviews within associations, especially rules pertaining to time limits for responding to requests. This is very important because if the committee fails to act on applications within statutory guidelines, it can get sued and be forced to pay legal fees or penalties for not having reasonable guidelines in place for responding to architectural requests.
The committee also needs to base its decisions on solid reasoning, not arbitrary standards, and will need a system in place (likely the architectural guidelines) to help members make objective decisions.

Architectural guidelines

Architectural guidelines establish an association’s policies and procedures for changes and improvements to an owner’s home or property. Guidelines not only provide criteria for the current committee to make appropriate decisions, successive committee members can use the guidelines to make consistent decisions in the future. Without the guidelines, an application approved today may result in a project that is deemed unacceptable by new committee members after it is complete.
Guidelines are developed and approved by the board of directors, not the architectural committee.

Setting your committee up for success

A good committee can make life easier, and more enjoyable for the entire community. Here are some tips you can pass on to your architectural committee to set them up for success.

Provide a roadmap
Successful architectural committees provide homeowners with a roadmap for the application process. This could be something as simple as a step-by-step guide, or an easy-to-follow outline on the community website. Whatever the roadmap looks like, it should give clear and simple directions from start to finish.

Create an FAQ document
Instead of having to answer the same questions over and over again, create an FAQ document for homeowners. Attach this document to the roadmap, or include a section at the end of the architectural change request form.  

Remove complicated language
If your application or request form contains language that the average person can’t understand without a dictionary, then it’s time for some editing. Get rid of unnecessary jargon and use simple language that your homeowners can actually understand. If there are terms that can’t be simplified, consider including a glossary with definitions.

Consider ways to digitize forms
Instead of distributing and managing stacks of papers, HOAs may want to consider digitizing architectural change request forms or applications. Condo Control Central has a convenient feature dedicated specifically to architectural change requests. Taking the approval process online makes it easier for HOAs to track, manage, and approve requests.

Bonus: Acknowledge the committee’s hard work
Finally, remember to thank your architectural committee. Don’t overlook the effectiveness of a simple thank-you note, an acknowledgment in the HOA newsletter, or a customized plaque. Committee members whose contributions are acknowledged are more likely to continue working hard and remain on the team.

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