Getting Clear About Architectural Standards in Community Associations

Abbotts Square Townhomes

One of Atlanta’s leading property management companies, Beacon Management Services stays on top by delivering comprehensive data, advice and a workforce that serves our clientele. We love to show our clients how to tackle problems and provide real-time solutions.

Since many homeowners struggle with a community association, we have provided some explanations, examples and potential solutions if ever struggling with the local community guidelines.

What are Architectural Standards?

One of the main functions of architectural standards in a community is to help maintain property values. The authority to regulate a homeowner’s right to make improvements or modifications to their property is derived from the governing documents. Specific regulations concerning architectural guidelines are typically found in the rules and regulations. An association may impose additional restrictions than those contained in the CC&Rs. Typically, these additional rules are written to provide greater clarity and definition to the CC&Rs and are referred to as Community Guidelines, Design Standards or something similar.

These guidelines are designed to provide an overall framework that will allow the community to develop and progress in an orderly, cohesive and attractive manner. They include minimum standards for the design, size, location, style, structure, materials, color, mode of architecture, mode of landscaping and relevant criteria for any construction or addition of improvements. The guidelines also establish a process for judicious review of proposed changes within the community.

Rules concerning architectural standards and guidelines are enforceable based on the contractual relationship between the homeowner’s association and its members. These rules will be interpreted by a court the same way a contract would be interpreted, varying slightly from state to state. If challenged, a court will examine the plain language of the rule in question and its rules and regulations, just as it would consider an entire contract when interpreting a clause. Typically, the court will impose some type of “reasonableness” standard and generally uphold the rule, unless it is unreasonable, violates public policy or imposes a burden that far outweighs any benefit.

Architectural standards generally control modifications to a property’s exterior. Generally, a homeowner will be allowed to make improvements and modifications to the interior of the property, so long as it doesn’t not alter the property’s structural integrity. Often, issues between HOAs and homeowners arise when a homeowner did not know or understand what was allowed and what was prohibited.

When purchasing a property with restrictive covenants, homeowners should take the following steps:

  • Read and understand the bylaws
  • Carefully examine the CC&Rs and rules and regulations
  • Determine whether the property is a good fit after considering the covenants that run with the property.

It is important to take these steps because, as discussed above, the CC&Rs and rules and regulations will be interpreted and enforced according to contract law.

The Role of the Architectural Review Committee

The Architectural Review Committee (ARC) is usually composed of community volunteers and is responsible for ensuring homeowners’ proposed exterior alterations to their properties comply with the goals and objectives set forth in the covenants, as well as the Community Guidelines or Design Standards. Although the function and purpose of architectural controls should be specific and limited, the architectural review committee cannot be a dictator, arbitrarily rendering decisions. If specific guidelines have not been developed and circulated to all homeowners, neither the unit owner nor the review board will have any objective standards by which to judge the proposed change. Without such standards, even the most well-intentioned committee can be accused of being arbitrary.

When addressing architectural review cases, the courts have made it clear that covenants are valid and enforceable, as long as the guidelines are clearly written and spell out the overall standards. It is not enough to say that owners may not make changes to the exterior without first obtaining written approval from the architectural control committee.

Therefore, when possible, populate the ARC committee with owners who have expertise in architectural and aesthetic issues. It’s very important to have people who know what they’re doing making decisions on building changes, additions and modifications. With condos, owners could be making changes that affect the structure of a building owned by the whole association, so issues are more than just aesthetic.

Another point to consider is that association documents often require the ARC committee to make a decision within a specified period of time. For example, if the ARC committee hasn’t decided 60 days after receiving a request, it “will be deemed to have been approved.” Advise ARC members to read the documents and follow the language carefully. If the documents say they must act on an owner’s request within 60 days, they cannot reject the owner on the 62nd day.

The Importance of Being Reasonable and Fair

Many times, those members involved in the architectural review and violation process have been accused of asserting dictatorial powers. In one large local community, the committee has been referred to as the “KGB.” According to one homeowner, committee members were often seen prowling around the neighborhood with their clipboards and dark glasses looking for violations. Does this sound familiar? Committees who become obsessed with minor, petty violations and lose sight of reality and common sense should take a step back and re-evaluate their motives. A considerable amount of money has been spent by homeowners and boards of directors in litigation that should never have been brought.

The committee must sit down with any homeowner who allegedly violated the architectural standards to try and work out an amicable resolution to the problem.

In the end, architectural committees must be firm — but they must also be reasonable and flexible.

For more information on our community association management services, visit or call 404-907-2112.

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