All homeowners’ associations (HOAs) have architecture review boards (ARBs), whose role is to enforce the architectural standards for the community. Typically they do this by keeping development uniform and visually standardized. Since one of the appealing aspects of managed communities is the uniform aesthetic of the neighborhood and the pleasing views, one of the primary duties of the ARB (sometimes referred to as the architectural review committee, or ARC), is to preserve and maintain the community’s look.
Homeowners who wish to make a change or addition to their property will likely need to obtain approval from the ARB. While this gives ARBs considerable power, there are limitations and it is important for owners to understand their rights and obligations when they are considering property improvements. Restrictions cannot be arbitrarily imposed, unreasonable, or unauthorized by the HOA’s governing documents. An experienced Florida housing attorney can assist you in challenging improper ARB action.
Check the Governing Documents
The authority of an ARB or ARC to regulate the rights of homeowners to make improvements or modifications to their property will be set forth in the HOA’s governing documents, especially the declaration of covenants. Homeowners may be required to obtain approval from the ARB before making a physical improvement or modification to their property. Such changes are regulated by the HOA’s architectural standards.
When considering modifications, keep in mind that architectural review boards can place limits on the height, road proximity, and color of modifications. They can prevent additions that block ocean views or affect the use of a common area. That said, under Florida law, any specific requirements, such as the color of paint or type of roof, need to be in the governing documents or another document that is adopted by the board.
Do I Have Grounds to Challenge the Architectural Review Board’s Decision?
Importantly, any decision on an owner’s architectural application must be made in good faith and not be unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious. It cannot be in conflict with any “governing provision of law,” such as building codes, laws governing land use or public safety. The decision must be in writing, and, if disapproved, must include both an explanation of why it was disapproved, as well as a description of the procedure through which the owner may request reconsideration of the decision.
If the ARB’s decision is challenged in court, the court will determine whether the restriction is reasonable, serves a legitimate purpose and is within the association’s authority.
A Florida HOA restriction may not be enforceable if it:
- Gives the HOA power over areas not clearly within the scope of its governing documents
- Relates to an issue not addressed in the HOA’s governing documents or is inconsistent with the governing documents (or state law)
- Stops homeowners from implementing “Florida-friendly landscaping” designed to conserve water resources
What does “Selective Enforcement” Mean?
Florida housing law provides that homeowner restrictions cannot be enforced in a selective or arbitrary manner. What that means is that an HOA cannot enforce a rule against only one homeowner, while not enforcing the same rule against the entire community. In the context of the ARB, selective enforcement may arise when a homeowner’s application to paint their house blue is rejected despite the fact that several previous homeowners have been allowed to paint their houses blue, even though the HOA’s governing documents provide that homes must be painted white.
While courts across the country have held that promotion of community aesthetics and property values is a legitimate purpose and important function of associations, a Florida court has held that architectural review boards or committees cannot refuse your request for an improvement or modification merely for aesthetic reasons unless there is already an existing pattern or scheme in place (such as a particular type or roof, fence, or door).
Dealing with these and other complexities of HOA architectural review standards can be challenging for homeowners without the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable Florida housing attorney advocating on their behalf. This is particularly true because Florida HOAs keep pricey law firms on retainer to fight for them. These attorneys are NOT on your side, even though they are paid using money that homeowners pay in dues.
How a Florida Housing Attorney Can Help
If you believe you have been treated unfairly by your architectural review board, we welcome you to contact us at (954) 966-3909. We serve the legal needs of individual condominium owners, home owners and cooperative owners in resolving disputes with their associations throughout Florida, including Broward, Dade and Palm Beach Counties, as well as Hollywood, Davie, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale, Sunny Isles, Aventura, Miami, North Miami, Brickell, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, and Naples. We NEVER represent associations.
Please note that free case evaluation is by telephone and does not include legal advice. Office consults with legal advice are available on a flat fee basis.