Question: Our board is concerned about some of the structural changes made by owners like solar panels on the roof and interior changes like cutting concrete, 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 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. I suggest you do it and include contact information (website, mail, phone) since finding the proper source of information is a major problem in the HOA world.

Question: Our property line fence is in need of repair and our governing documents say that the responsibility belongs to the homeowner. Our neighbor demands that we not rebuild on the property line and wants a different style of fence. And the City requires a fence design that is contrary to our Architectural Design Guidelines. Help!

Answer: It seems this neighbor is the tail wagging the dog. They don't propose to pay the cost but want to call the shots. The Architectural Review Committee (or Board of Directors if there isn’t one) should determine the look and location of the fence. I suggest you make a written request to the Committee for both the fence style and property line location subject to being built according to city building code standards. The neighbor has no right to demand it be moved to a new location unless it is actually encroaching on his lot. Fences rightly belong on the property line.

Question: Our homeowner association is undergoing a major exterior renovation. The Board has decided to limit the Association's maintenance responsibility to one half of the labor costs for any structural damage discovered. Affected unit owners are expected to cover the remaining half of labor costs and all the material costs. The governing documents state that the exterior maintenance is the Association's responsibility. Is this appropriate?

Answer: This "half enchilada" approach was doubtless hatched by the Board because of a lack of reserve funds to address the whole enchilada. But there are several BIG problems in it. If the governing documents say that the association is responsible for exterior maintenance, then that's what it means. That also includes structural damage related to exterior problems. Also, it penalizes individual owners for repairs that should be paid by all owners. Lack of money does not justify shuffling off association responsibilities to individual owners.

If there isn't enough funds in reserve, a special assessment needs to be floated to raise the remaining amount. To prevent shortfalls in the future, the Board should have a Reserve Study done to analyze the long term repairs and costs like roofing, painting and paving. It’s imperative that the Board prepare for predictable and expensive events.

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