Most people assume that as soon as they purchase a home, that they have carte blanche discretion to alter its appearance in any way they see fit. Finally time to paint the deck a fluorescent pink, or festoon their lawns with political signs and inflatable toys.
However, aesthetics are a highly regulated area in HOA governance, and having the freedom to do as you please is rare, if not true at all in most communities.
Most condo and homeowner associations have strict guidelines governing the appearances of their communities. These rules can pour into exhaustive detail around what is permissible, and what is restricted. For many communities, that means adhering to a neutral color palette, pre-determined landscaping, and construction uniformity.
Community associations have a vested interest for everything to appear as a happy medium. It is the ‘neutral’ look that helps maintain property values.
Other associations restrict where you can attach a lock box, while high-rise buildings are very restrictive about what can be outside the door and what can be placed on the door when it comes to holiday decorations and welcome signs. Some condo and homeowner’s associations even have restrictions for satellite dish installations. The government says the association must allow them, but they can still restrict where they are placed.
“You can’t pick and choose,” Tammy Pietranton says. “The same rules have to apply to everyone so you’re not suggesting favoritism. We also choose the worst offenses to focus on—keeping your property up, keeping your driveway clean and keeping your roof clean. That way, we’re not always arguing with the residents.”
As of July 2010, “a new Florida law states that condominium associations are allowed to fine the homeowner as long as they provide 14 days written notice of the violation. They also must allow the opportunity for a hearing before a committee of unit owners before imposing the fines. If the committee doesn’t agree, the fine can’t be imposed.”
The law also states that delinquent condo owner’s voting rights and use of common area facilities be revoked if they are past 90 days for the fine. Pietranton likes to remind the people living in her community that the rules exist to facilitate the increase of property values – not to penalize the owners.
It is a slippery slope when properties start to veer from community guidelines. A messy yard may instigate a messy home, and then other problems will start appearing, vis a vis the domino effect. It’s a slippery slope from an unkempt yard to a foreclosure, Pietranton stated. And in these tough housing times, it’s important to do the little aesthetic things needed to make sure that the units maintain their value, she says.
In fact, Florida law states that owners may construct an access ramp for any resident who requires a wheelchair. If demanded, the owner must give an affidavit with information from their doctor stating that they require the ramp. And when the ramp is installed, the law says, it must blend into the existing aesthetics as much as possible. Before construction, the plans must be submitted to the board, and must be approved before the construction begins. While the ramp is allowed, the association still has the right to request aesthetic changes as long as it’s still usable.