Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Don't Forget to Follow-Up!

A backyard discussion between a homeowner and Board member turns into a screaming match about the owner's newly-installed patio deck.  Sound familiar?  Home modifications are highly-personal issues and the best policy when reviewing architectural modifications is to conduct comments in a neutral, formal setting.

After the review committee approves a home modification - such as installing a fence, replacing the roof, or adding a garage - the final step in the process is to confirm that work matches community expectations.  Normally a member of the review committee (or perhaps a Board member) meets with the homeowner on an evening or weekend.  If a problem is spotted, there may be a brief discussion, but any escalation must be avoided.  The reviewer should politely excuse herself and notify the community association manager to document problems in a letter to the homeowner.  This letter includes details for a homeowner hearing, where cooler heads work through expectations.

Sometimes a Board of Directors wishes to contract with their management company to handle follow-up inspections on home construction projects.  Before taking this step, consider the following:

1.  Depending on the complexity of the project, the manager may not identify construction items that were priority issues for the review committee.  Something as simple as a shade of paint color may appear acceptable to the manager but not the committee.  Once approval is granted, reversing can be difficult since management is an agent of the Association.

2.  Aggressive Boards may decide to combine management architectural inspections with the regular community compliance drive-through. Entering a person's yard unannounced has led to safety issues and criminal trespass charges being filed.  Although the Association may prevail in court, insurance will resist reimbursing the thousands of dollars (in excess of the deductible) in legal defense spending.  Even if a judge does choose to award legal fees to the Association, attempting to actually recover these from the homeowner presents its own challenges. 

3.  Although the Association (and its agents) may have a right to enter particular areas, this should only be done in emergency situations or with advanced homeowner scheduling.  Fencing and pets restrict easy access.  This leads to costly special arrangements for the manager to meet the homeowner during non-business hours, or making additional visits outside of the management contract.  Is it in the best economic interest of the community?

The final step of architectural review does not have to be unpleasant.  Establish clear expectations upon receiving an application.  For unauthorized changes, immediately issue a written notice to cease work.  Otherwise, a court may block the Association’s attempt to reverse the work, particularly if the home improvement was expensive and the Association failed to speak up early in the process.  Always remain cool, no matter how contentious.

Maintaining a consistent and visible review process deters unapproved modifications and provides respectful resolutions for a very personal matter:  Home improvement.

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