How to be a Good Neighbor
“The Truth About Those Pesky Letters”
Inspections and Compliance
This webpage sets the record straight once and for all about what a property inspection is, why it benefits you, and how to amicably resolve the matter if your receive a notice of non-compliance.
Let’s start with the basics!
In virtually every planned community association, property inspections are completed by either the Management Company, the Architectural Review Committee or Architectural Control Committee (ARC or ACC), or the Board of Directors.
Why are reviews performed?
Homes in planned communities have standards which are designed to keep your neighborhood beautiful and enhance your quality of life. The reviews ensure those standards are being met. In the event an issue is noted, the homeowner (not the tenant) will receive a letter in the mail.
What are the benefits of the reviews?
Homeowners buy in your community because they have an expectation that the neighborhood rules will be followed. Associations with a process of periodic reviews and compliance management tend to have the best curb appeal - which leads to increased home values and quality of life.
Do other communities have reviews?
Yes. If you were to sell your home and move to another community association, you will find that reviews are a very common, industry-standard practice all across the country.
Where did these rules come from?
Where do I find these rules?
Your association is its own democracy with its own constitution. Planned community standards are expressed in the association’s Governing Documents. Covenants, which represent the rules and restrictions, along with any amendments, are on record with the county. The community also has bylaws which document the manner the association representation is run.
Who runs the Association?
All Associations are run by volunteer board of directors. The number of board members and how the process works for your neighborhood is spelled out in the bylaws. Management companies simply assist the board in implementing their goals and enforcing the rules. Virtually all associations allow for the community leaders to set “guidelines” that better clarify the rules. Those supplementary documents are not filed in the county and are subject to change. For example, most communities require permission to paint; however, some have exact paint colors while others have various options. Potted plants, landscape changes, and signage are just a few examples of items that benefit from this type of clarification.
How can I get a copy of these documents?
Some documents are required to be recorded with the county such as covenants, bylaws and amendments. Other documents are meant to clarify the recorded documents and reflect the allowable discretion of the board. These do not have to be recorded. Examples include architectural color guidelines, standard paint colors, or pool rules.
Look for the documents affecting your community in the following places:
County Records Contain:
Please note: Associations that are “Condominiums” or “Property Owners’ Associations” are also subject to the Georgia Condominium Act and the Georgia Property Owners’ Association Act.
Management Company Archives:
Recorded Governing Documents
When did I agree to these rules?
The day you purchase a property in the community with mandatory membership, you automatically agree to all the provision, covenants, rules, and regulations associated with that property. Everything is on file at the Clerk of the Court and it is the purchaser’s responsibility to review the Governing Documents and assess whether they are willing to comply prior to the closing.
What standards are listed in the Governing Documents?
All communities are different, but in most documents you can expect to find standards or restrictions surrounding:
Pets and Animals
Signage and Flags
Trash Cans and More
Can I opt out of the Association?
In most Associations, membership is mandatory. Homeowners cannot simply refuse to participate, decide not to comply, or opt out. That applies to the assessments, the standards, and the rules.
It is this element that allows these types of planned communities to function and to flourish.
What is a Modification Request?
How can I change the exterior of my home?
Changes to the exterior of a home in a planned community are called “modifications”, and normally require a formal request and approval from either the Architectural Control Committee (ACC), the board of directors, or an authorized person assigned by either. An application is required and responses can take anywhere from 30-60 days, depending on the community. That being said, many requests are processed much faster.
How can I help facilitate a fast approval?
Applications should be as detailed as possible and include photographs of the area to be modified, exact paint colors (brand and number) the type of materials used, images or drawings of what the completed project will look like, etc. The request should not only comply with the Governing Documents, but any changes should work in harmony with the established standards. Changes that represent strong diversions from the current look and feel of the community will likely be denied.
Why can’t I express my personality?
The degree to which one can “personalize” their home varies greatly from community to community. It depends on the Governing Documents as well as the architectural guidelines. Most associations do not want one home to vary so significantly from the others that it “stands out”. More often than not, the board or architectural review committee prefer to approve modifications that complement the existing architecture and the original style of the neighborhood.
What items require a formal Modification Request?
This will vary by community. To be on the safe side, always contact your management company and check the rules before you sign any contracts, implement any changes, or purchase any items such as trampolines or garden items.
Is some part of the decision subjective?
Yes, some of it is subjective! That is the reason for the committee’s existence and the process itself. Committees can change over time, and so can some of the guidelines or rules.
Can I simply make the change without asking?
Some homeowners prefer to ask for forgiveness, rather than permission. That philosophy is strongly discouraged by associations and management companies across the country. Most documents allow for daily fining, and virtually all of them allow for abatement - a process wherein the Association can order the item in question or modification removed.
What about paint colors?
A change in a paint color definitely requires approval. In some communities, even painting the house the same color requires approval, as colors fade over time. Disputes with unapproved paint colors are expensive to remedy. A request for anything other than a minor repair is always a good idea.
What is the best way to put in a modification request?
Detailed information will lead to a faster turnaround time. It is best to include photographs of the home and the area to be modified, be as specific as possible. Always identify the materials of the structure, measurements of the size, and images or drawings of the completed project.
For example, in regards to color, requests should come in the form of a paint chip, the manufacturer’s name and the exact number of the paint color. Applications with descriptions such as “gray” or “beige” are almost always delayed, and in some cases denied for insufficient information. A committee may even request a small sample of the paint be placed on the home itself, in an inconspicuous location, for visual review.
So, you got a violation letter?
How should I react to a letter?
Upon receiving a letter, 90% of all homeowners comply within 30 days or less. Most people understand that this action is necessary and appreciate the value of a beautiful, well-maintained community. Some, however, are confused, frustrated, amused, or angry. The material in this webpage should clarify the process for those owners, and help them appreciate that inspections increase their own value as well!
Can I refuse to address compliance issues?
Actually, not really.
Many governing documents allow for stiff penalties if a homeowner refuses to comply, and the court system has repeatedly backed the Association in these matters. Without these rules, no community could operate or maintain standards. There is a great deal of case law supporting this concept.
What if I don’t like the rules?
Your Governing Documents are similar in nature to the United States Constitution in that it can be amended. If a certain majority of the community agrees that a particular rule is not appropriate for the Association moving forward, the Governing Documents can be legally amended after a successful vote. Guidelines can be changed more easily: new members on the board or the Architectural Control Committee can adjust ARC standards year after year.
In the end, homeowners that truly “do not like rules” may be happier living outside of a planned community.
What are the consequences for refusing to address compliance issues?
Penalties for non-compliance vary by community; however, those with the strictest guidelines often have the best curb appeal and highest property values. Below are just some of the consequences that may apply:
Fines: Daily fines can be imposed.
Abatement: A process wherein the Association has the legal right to escort a vendor onto your property and repair or maintain it.
Charges: Your account will be charged all costs associated with the process of bringing the home into compliance including legal fees!
It is important to understand that your management company and your board of directors really, really, really do not want to fine homeowners, abate your property, or engage legal counsel. Really! It is no fun for anyone. It is in everyone’s best interest not to escalate the situation to this level.
Is the Association just picking on me?
Management companies will often hear complaints from residents, citing examples of other homes that appear to have “worse” violations as a reason not to comply. The homeowner incorrectly feels singled out.
Although it is easy to see why this might be frustrating, there are a few things to understand about the process. Board members and management companies cannot discuss the details of your neighbor’s files. Please know that it is the goal and obligation of both the board and the management company to treat all homeowners the same. Your neighbor’s file may be escalating, incurring fines, or in litigation. In some cases, items out of compliance will be “grandfathered in” due to extenuating circumstances.
What is important to remember is that the absence of compliance on one home, for any reason, does not create a new precedent or standard for the neighborhood. It simply means a particular item remains out-of-compliance for some period of time.
What is the easiest way to comply?
If you are finding it difficult to maintain your home or yard, you may find it helpful to consult with one of the companies that service your neighbors’ homes. Although the Association cannot recommend any particular lawn care service, painter, or pressure washer, you may be surprised to find out how affordable these companies can be, especially when they are already working in your community.
What if the compliance issue is the result of a hardship or difficult times?
In the event that a homeowner is going through a difficult time, or has an inability to comply for any reason, they should contact the management company. Our role is to keep complete records on file, and explain the situation to the Architectural Committee and board of directors.
Lack of communication is the number one reason issues escalate.
Management companies and board members aim to keep the situation moving forward, so an amicable solution can be reached.