What You Need to Know About Architectural Review Board Laws
The architectural review committee of a homeowners association (HOA) is tasked with reviewing and approving designs to ensure they conform to the neighborhood’s restrictions. This committee must comply with architectural review board laws and must be particularly careful when denying a homeowner’s plan. Despite the legal requirements, many HOA architectural review committees fail to follow the law. When a homeowner’s architectural design is baselessly denied, the homeowner can challenge the architectural review committee’s decision and potentially get the decision reversed and recover their Florida condo attorney fees. The Law Offices of Herb M. Milgrim, P.A. can review the process your HOA took when denying your architectural plans and explain whether you have valid grounds to challenge the decision.
HOA Open Meeting Law
Under § 720.303(2), Fla. Stat. (2023), an HOA architectural review committee must follow the same open meeting law as the HOA’s board of directors. Any architectural review board meeting must be properly noticed and open so that homeowners can attend. The notice must be in writing and posted conspicuously at least 48 hours before the meeting. Under subsection (2)(c)(3) of this statute, the committee members are not allowed to vote by secret ballot, and proxy voting is also disallowed. The meeting and decision must be recorded in minutes for review.
In many cases, architectural review committees fail to post conspicuous notices to alert members about their meetings, post an inconspicuous notice, fail to meet the time requirements, or fail to take minutes. In any of these situations, a homeowner whose plan is denied can challenge the decision based on the review committee’s failure to adhere to the procedural requirements.
Published Standards Rule
Another issue that frequently arises is when an architectural review committee denies an owner’s architectural plans when they are not addressed in the HOA’s published standards and guidelines for size, location, design, or appearance. Under § 720.3035(1), Fla. Stat. (2023), HOAs can deny architectural plans only when the requests violate the published standards and guidelines or when a reasonable inference that they will violate them can be made. In some cases, an owner’s request to alter the appearance of their property will not be addressed in the HOA’s standards and guidelines or its declaration, and a denial can be challenged on that basis. HOAs sometimes try to address situations in which an owner’s request is not addressed in their declarations or other published standards and guidelines by including catch-all provisions. Depending on the proposed change and whether other homes in the neighborhood have similar features, a denial based on a catch-all provision may or may not be unchallengeable.
HOA Self-Help and Injunctive Relief
A common issue that arises within HOAs is when an owner fails to properly maintain their property according to the published standards and guidelines. To address this problem, most HOAs include self-help provisions in their published standards and guidelines through which they retain the HOA’s authority to correct the issue and bill the owner for it. HOAs commonly also include provisions allowing them to seek injunctive relief from the court to order owners to comply. Florida courts have ruled that an HOA’s declaration and published standards and guidelines that include an option for self-help mean the HOAs must first take self-help measures before they can seek injunctions in court. Chapter 718 of the Florida Statutes governs condominium complexes, Chapter 719 governs cooperatives, and Chapter 720 governs homeowners’ associations. Each of these chapters provides associations the right to pursue remedies in equity or law when owners fail to comply. However, the order in which HOAs can pursue remedies is a basic legal principle as confirmed by the courts.
Before an association can pursue injunctive relief, which is an equitable remedy, it must first pursue a legal remedy. The HOA’s declaration and published standards form a contract with each owner. While the self-help provision might use permissive language about whether the HOA might pursue self-help remedies, the courts have held that HOAs with self-help provisions must perform those actions before filing an action in court for injunctive relief against the violating owners. Courts will not award equitable relief unless a legal remedy is inadequate to address the situation and has already been attempted.
In Mauriello v. Property Owners Association of Lake Parker Estates, Inc., 337 So.3d 484 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2022), the court found that the HOA’s complaint against a homeowner for failing to keep their lawn and landscaping manicured according to the property’s standards should have been dismissed at the outset. The HOA had a self-help provision that allowed the association to either pursue self-help or file for injunctive relief. The HOA filed a claim for injunctive relief without first taking care of the owner’s lawn and billing them. While the case was pending, the house was sold. The new owners voluntarily brought the landscaping into compliance, but the HOA and the new owners continued the action to determine which party was entitled to attorney’s fees. The court ruled in favor of the homeowner since the HOA failed to engage in self-help before filing the action.
Talk to a Florida Condo Attorney
If your architectural modification request has been denied by your HOA’s architectural review committee, or your HOA has filed a complaint for injunctive relief against you without first engaging in self-help to correct the issue, you should consult Florida condo attorney Herb M. Milgrim to learn about your rights and how the architectural review board laws might apply in your case. Attorney Herb M. Milgrim has more than two decades of experience fighting for the rights of condo owners and can explain your rights. Call us today for a case evaluation at 954-966-3909.