View Our Webinar Replays for CAM-ICB Credit

How to Avoid Conflict with Owners Over Architectural Guidelines

By Alexandria Pollock, PCAM, CCAM-HR

This article first appeared in the Fall 2021 Issue of The Communicator here.

I HEARD THE news story from the OC Register a few months ago: a Tustin woman is embroiled in a battle with her homeowners association over garage doors she installed without seeking architectural approval. Her defense? According to the homeowner, she’s made other alterations to the exterior of her home over the years without hearing from the association.

Another story that made the Wall Street Journal in March of 2019 details numerous citations over the course of several years to a Kansas resident from his HOA. The citations started with a misplaced satellite dish and included a statue in a flower bed and a decorative wall around another plant bed. These improvements were made without architectural approval and in violation of the association’s guidelines, according to the HOA. However, the owner believed he received approval. The ongoing legal battle over the decorative wall became one of the most expensive active cases of its type in U.S. history, allegedly topping $1 million so far in legal fees. (Hildenbrand v. Avignon Villa Homes)

This story is repeated in homeowners associations every day; and is an enormous source of conflict and grief for both homeowners and management, alike. Management or the board gets stuck telling owners they have to remove or replace brand new, often beautiful and costly improvements to their homes, and are always "the bad guys" in this rules enforcement situation. Owners comply grudgingly once they understand the architectural guidelines and approval process, but have a mistrust of the association going forward. Or owners fight the association, filing a lawsuit which costs the association time and money – sometimes lots of money – to resolve.

There has to be a better way!

I had a simple epiphany while reading articles about these conflicts, one that I hope communities consider putting into practice. Communicate with your residents frequently about your HOA’s architectural guidelines and the process for approval for modifications. There are many ways to educate the community, and it can be fun!

  • Hold new resident orientations and spend time educating owners about architectural guidelines. Often new owners are excited about their homes and want to make them their own by doing renovations or improvements. Don’t assume that new owners have read, or understood, architectural guidelines before buying their homes. Home purchases are very paper-heavy transactions, and architectural rules can get lost among the CC&Rs and other rules and regulations.
  • Host periodic community talks about how to apply for a renovation. Invite the architectural committee to host the meeting; and, if you have one, ask the architect that reviews submittals on behalf of the association to do a Q&A.
  • Leverage your board and residents’ new love of Zoom and host virtual seminars about the community’s architectural guidelines. Talk through exactly what the application and approval process entails, and any additional documents that may need to be completed for the association during or at the end of the project.
  • Ask residents who have recently completed an approved project to share with their neighbors about the process. Ask them to emphasize the importance of providing the necessary documentation to the architectural review committee and have them share examples of their applications if they feel comfortable doing so.
  • Pick a theme each month, such as hard-surface flooring replacements, landscape renovations, painting, garage door replacement (too soon?) and ask local third-party vendors who work for HOAs and specialize in those trades to give tips to residents interested in doing work on their homes.
  • Review your architectural guidelines at least annually and ask yourself if they still make sense. Evaluate whether rules are being uniformly applied and enforced. Be sure the guidelines are clear and easy for your residents to understand.

My hope for boards and community managers is that the more you educate your residents about the architectural guidelines of your community, the less you will have to fight with them over alterations made without approval. Spare yourselves the time and the headache and build a positive rapport with your residents through ongoing conversations about the architectural process.


Alexandria "Lexie" Pollock is the West Coast regional sales manager for BuildingLink, the gold standard in technology for managing community associations. She is a member of CAI-BayCen’s Designation Mentoring Committee, president-elect of the CAI-Greater Los Angeles Chapter and a member of the San Diego Chapter of CAI.


Please make your nominations no later than October 1st.