Following House Rules Controlling Community Design Choices

Taste is subjective. Luckily your board’s design rules and guidelines aren’t. From gaudy exterior paint colors, to improperly mounted flagpoles, to Clark Griswold-esque holiday light displays, the exterior design choices of individual unit owners can negatively impact the quality of life and  the property values of the entire community.  But how can a board maintain control of community aesthetics without trampling on the goodwill and legally protected rights of the community’s owners?

Design Rules

Most board members are working from design rules and restrictions inherited from developers or a previous generation of leadership. “Developers put these architectural rules in place because during the period of buildout and sale, they want to ensure that there's consistency and uniformity in the community because it looks better on the marketing brochure,” explains Tom Skiba, the chief executive officer of the Community Associations Institute (CAI), an international organization of 60 chapters dedicated to providing educational and resource information to community associations and HOAs worldwide. The New Jersey chapter of CAI (CAI-NJ) is in Freehold, and there is a Southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware Valley chapter  (CAI-PADELVAL) in King of Prussia, PA.

In fact, many potential owners are drawn to these communities because of the uniformity presented in those brochures.  That uniformity works great, notes Skiba, “as long as there's a mechanism in the governing documents that allows the community to evolve once it passes from developer control to owner control, and as the nature of the community and its residents changes over time.”

For example, you might have a community that gets started with an initial group of owners that tends to skew older—maybe their kids are out of the house, and then 15-20 years down the road—the next generation of owners moves in and now the community consists of families with young children. 

Tot lots and playgrounds weren't a big deal 20 years ago, but suddenly it's potentially an area of conversation. “That's also true with architectural standards,” says Skiba. “Things evolve. If you live in Scottsdale, AZ, do you want your community to basically be the same beige as every other community or do you want to do some things that make it distinct? That's the essence of the community association model. It's up to the residents through their board to have that conversation and make a decision that's beneficial to and bought into by the entire community.”

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