5 Tips for a Foolproof Architectural Review Plan

5 Tips for a Foolproof Architectural Review Plan

 What is a designated architectural review committee?

Also known as the architectural control committee, the architectural review committee (ARC) is responsible for approving and denying requests. All of which are run by either the board of directors or the ARC. A large part of their role is to plan and process decisions for which are then executed by the homeowner. Their decisions are weighed by a number of factors and must be strategically evaluated so that the decision being made is made for the better of the community.    

Why is a review plan important? 

In order for the ARC to be successful, they must strategically process and evaluate their decisions. Here is where the ARC will create and execute a review plan — this plan is to help the decision making process run smoothly and effectively so that all options are properly weighed and evaluated. A review plan:

  • Enforces guidelines and standards set forth by the ARC. 
  • Helps evaluate the application process for accuracy. 
  • Contributes to guideline compliance - including the approval and denial process of all exterior changes.

How does an ARC delegate decisions? 

  1. Good faith - A decision on a proposed change shall be made in good faith and may not be unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious. (Civ. Code § 4765(a)(2)
  2. Fair Employment and Housing Act - Any decisions or proposed changes may not violate any governing provision of law, including, but not limited to, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Part 2.8 (commencing with Section 12900) of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code).
  3. A written hard copy - All decisions must be provided in writing, especially if the decision is denied — a detailed explanation of why the request was denied, along with a description and procedure for reconsideration must be provided. (Civ. Code § 4765(a)(4)
  4. Code compliance - Any approval or denial for request made must be in compliance with the HOA's governing documents. 

The ARC review process 

Before we dig into discussing a review plan, let's start by defining the ARC review process, step-by-step: 

  • Review the ARC request guidelines and community bylaws - This step is critical to ensuring that all bylaws and guidelines are being met. 
  • Submit application - Once the homeowner has complied with their community bylaws, they may move forward with submitting an ARC request. Depending on the HOA, requests can be submitted by either e-mail, mail or a community online application. In order for the ARC to thoroughly review their request, the homeowner will need to provide all necessary information such as: contact information, the project description, a map or outline of the project, paint samples (if necessary), dimensions, permits, and an estimated start and end date.
  • Review request - After the request has been submitted, the ARC will then proceed with reviewing the application for all required information. This also includes the community’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) to ensure that the project complies with their community bylaws.  
  • Approval process -  In this step, the ARC will begin the decision making process. If the project compiles with their CC&Rs, the project will be approved. If it does not comply, the request will either be denied or issued a variance. 

- A variance is given as special permission to execute a non-compliant request. This is provided to help meet the homeowners needs for those that may have special needs such as requiring a wheelchair ramp. Note, a variance does not always guarantee an approval — the variance is carefully evaluated to ensure that all parties are given a fair evaluation. 

  • Response letter - Once a final decision is made, the ARC will then proceed with sending a response letter to the homeowner. The letter will provide the homeowner with the decision to either execute or not go forward with the project. Depending on the HOA, a response can take anywhere from 30-60 days. 
  • Homeowners right to appeal - If for some reason the homeowner is not satisfied with the decision of their request, they may be given the right to appeal — this is strictly if the communities bylaws and governing documents allow this option.    

5 Tips to Ensure a Successful Architectural Review Plan

1. Knowledgeable and experienced ARC

Having an experienced and knowledgeable ARC committee will play a large role in the planning process. The reason for this is so the request being made is evaluated by someone that may have more expertise about the project. It’s in the HOAs best interest to select knowledgeable volunteers. Some examples may include volunteers with the following criteria: have thorough knowledge about the HOAs bylaws and governing documents, legal experience, a background in landscape and vendor protocols, or experience working with exterior projects and hardware. 

2. Develop a step-by-step clear process and roadmap

In order for your ARC committee to create a successful plan, a clear process and roadmap should be put in place for the community. A roadmap also works as a focal point for homeowners to utilize as a guide when submitting requests. This may include: deadlines and a timeline for each type of request.

3. Communication and defining objectives

In order to have a successful review plan, communication and defined objectives must be put in place. 

  • Provide different styles of communication for your team such as: e-mail, newsletter, or virtual updates through your community online portal 
  • Visuals - provide visual objectives and goals such as a large drawing board that includes weekly objectives or goals. 
  • Open communication - Allow other team members to provide feedback. Exercise effective listening - remember there’s always two sides to a story. 

4. Staying uniform and following guidelines

Regardless of the type of request, personal opinions and emotions should be left out of the decision making process. ARC members must use their best judgements and follow all community guidelines regardless if they personally agree or disagree. The rules of the ARC were set in place for a reason — to provide a standard and image for all community members. 

5. A knowledgeable legal support system

Considered one of the most important factors to ensuring a successful review plan is to have a knowledgeable legal counsel and support system. If proper counsel is not provided, an ARC may find themselves at a standstill on how to proceed. As a result, the HOA could result in a legal dispute or potential lawsuit.  

Is there an easier way?  

If your HOA is looking to adopt a new technology partner for the community, there is software that exists to make submitting these requests easier. For example, TownSq offers communities the option to utilize their arch feature application that allows HOA members the opportunity to submit an ARC request straight from their mobile app or community website. Many HOA boards and communities have found this application to be quite helpful and resourceful for a number of reasons. 

TownSq Arch feature: 

Request a demo of TownSq's Architectural Request feature to see how hundreds of communities are streamlining their architectural process.