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Ask the HOA Expert: Illegal Or Unapproved Modifications

Written by on Tuesday, 28 July 2015 12:13 pm
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Question: Our board is concerned about some of the structural changes made by owners like cutting concrete foundations, moving walls and plumbing modifications that tie into the main lines. Is there a statute of limitations to bring action against an owner for illegal or unapproved modifications?

Answer: Every HOA needs a policy for architectural changes. That policy should require proper engineering and permitting. If your HOA is comprised of single family homes, the HOA's concern is curb appeal. In common wall HOAs like condominiums, improper structural changes may degrade the structure which is the HOA's responsibility to maintain. Structural changes can create life safety issues. So in condominiums, the stakes are much higher and the HOA needs to be much more vigilant and aggressive in controlling outcomes. There is a sample Architectural Design Policy in the Regenesis.net Policy Samples section which can be adapted to your HOA's use.

Whether the HOA should get involved in retroactively enforcing violations depends on how long the feature has been in place and if it is something that affects structural integrity. If the latter, the board should act and bring the building department into the mix if necessary.

Question: Our board is debating the value of installing an entry monument in our HOA. I don't see it as a worthwhile expense. What is your experience?

Answer: It is generally a good idea to have an entry monument or sign since HOAs have rights and responsibilities that single family subdivision homeowners do not have. The sign will help identify that fact to prospective buyers, real estate agents, contractors and others that may be thinking of getting involved is some way. It is recommended that the sign include contact information (website, phone) since finding the proper source of information is a major problem in the HOA world.

Question: Should the board require that a member's account be current before they approving an Architectural Review Application?

Answer: Timely collections are an essential for all HOAs. The board should enact an aggressive policy that includes filing liens and anything else the governing documents and law allows. Denying an architectural design request is probably permissible as long as your approved collection policy states that it is. As with any board policy, it should be reviewed prior to enactment by a knowledgeable attorney that specializes in homeowner association law in your state.

There is a sample Collection Policy in the Regenesis.net Policy Samples section which can be adapted to your HOA's use.

Question: We are a pet friendly condominium but the number of resident pets has been climbing rapidly recently. We currently have a 30# weight limit on dogs which no one abides by. We are thinking of charging dog owners an annual fee because our carpet cleaning costs are so high. Have you seen this done in other condominiums?

Answer: Common area carpet should normally be cleaned several times a year even without the pet challenges. Pet owners whose pets are caught in the act, of course, should pay the cost of special cleaning. But charging all pet owners for something a few are guilty is not fair.

As far as your 30# weight limit, the premise is that smaller dogs are better mannered than larger ones. The biggest problems with dogs are barking, aggression and owners failing to clean up after them. In this, size is no object. The HOA should definitely have some policy for dealing with dog owners that fail in these categories. Post regular reminders of pet guidelines. There is a sample Pet Policy in the Regenesis.net Policy Samples section.

Question: Our HOA is dealing with some distressing issues regarding rentals. A number of landlord owners do not properly maintain their units. Is the HOA allowed to inspect rental units to ensure that the interior is in good repair? We think their condition is affecting our market values.

Answer: Unit owners have many protections that extend to their renters. If your concerns is one of fire safety or health (trash, cockroaches, rats), the HOA has the right to demand the unit owner take action. The HOA has no direct authority over renters and should not enter a unit without permission or unless there is an emergency (fire, flood, etc.)

Making a case that interior condition affects curb appeal and market value is hard to prove. There have been many court cases affirming the right of residents to live like pigs if they so choose. But unit owners are just as capable of living this way so singling out renters is unfair. The HOA should focus on individual residents, whether owner or renter, and specific issues that directly affect the HOA.

If a renter is violating HOA rules and regulations, the unit owner should be notified in writing and given a deadline for correction. If the owner fails to take action, invoke approved fines and penalties to enforce compliance. If there is illegal or dangerous activity, call the police, health or fire department.

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  About the author, Richard Thompson

Individual news stories are based upon the opinions of the writer and does not reflect the opinion of Realty Times.