Why can’t I paint my house green, pink, or yellow: Architectural Restrictions in a Community Association

A common complaint among those unhappy with their community association, or disdainful of community associations in general, often sounds something like: “I don’t want to be told what color to paint my house or what kind of shed I can build in my backyard.” Putting aside the discussion of the pros and cons of community associations, the obstinate homeowner raises some important questions regarding the definition of architectural restrictions, the basis of the architectural review committee’s authority, and the architectural review committee’s options for enforcing its guidelines and decisions.

What Are Architectural Restrictions?

Architectural restrictions are guidelines, standards, or rules that set forth requirements for the size, color, location, and materials of construction and improvements within the neighborhood. Such restrictions serve the purpose of maintaining aesthetic quality and conformity within the community, and of increasing the value of the homes in the community. They are usually promulgated by the developer, the board of directors, or a committee of directors of association.

Where Do Architectural Committees Attain Power and What Rules Must They Follow?

Most often, the board of directors of the planned community will appoint the architectural review committee. The declaration of covenants or the bylaws of the planned community usually provide this power. If the governing documents do not state otherwise, the board of directors may appoint itself as the architectural committee. As with any committee in a community association, the architectural review committee must follow the rules set out in the governing documents as well as the requirements of the Planned Community Act (N.C.G.S. §47F) and the Nonprofit Corporation Act (N.C.G.S. §55A).

How Are Architectural Committees Appointed?

The community association’s governing documents should set forth whether the board of directors has the ability to appoint architectural committees and, if so, the process for appointing such committees. If the governing documents to not set out a procedure for appointing committees, and do not disallow committees, the creation of a committee and appointment of members to it shall be approved by the greater of (1) a majority of all the directors in office when the action is taken, or (2) the number of directors required by the governing documents to take action in a meeting. N.C.G.S. § 55A-8- 25. The association may wish to contact its attorney to ensure the architectural review committee was properly appointed.

How are Violations Enforced?

The most common method of enforcing the architectural restrictions is to impose fines for violations, or to suspend privileges such as access to association amenities. Before imposing any fines or suspending privileges, in most cases the association must provide the homeowner with notice of its intent to impose fines and allow the homeowner an opportunity to be heard to challenge the decision to impose the fines. N.C.G.S. § 47F- 3-107.1. If imposing fines and/or suspending privileges does not compel the homeowner to remedy the violation, the association may consider seeking injunctive relief. Getting the court to require a homeowner to comply with the architectural guidelines or the architectural review committee’s decision requires filing a complaint with the superior court of the county in which the property is located, serving the homeowner with the complaint, and holding a hearing before a superior court judge. It may be wise to contact your association’s attorney to review the governing documents and architectural review guidelines to evaluate enforcement options.