Living in a condo or a townhome offers plenty of benefits for those who want to own a home but don’t want to deal with a lot of surrounding space just yet. Once you’re settled in, your natural inclination is to make your home yours through additions and renovations, especially if you happen to have some space outside of your condo or townhome. But what kind of exterior modifications are you actually allowed to make? Well, that depends on your homeowners’ association (HOA).
Condos and townhomes typically fall under the purview of an HOA. And these groups have distinct guidelines that provide a framework for what kind of changes or upgrades you can make to your home’s exterior and surrounding space — and some are stricter and more intricate than others.
Step 1: Consult HOA Documents
If you’re contemplating making a change to your new condo or townhome’s exterior, you should first consult your Condo/Townhouse HOA documents. If you did not receive a copy when you purchased your home, check the HOA’s or management company’s website for the most recent versions.
The document you’ll want to focus on is the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions or CC&Rs. The CC&Rs map out the requirements and limitations of changes you can make to your property, including architectural controls, which govern renovations and exterior additions and finishes. These regulations are in place to maintain continuity in your building or community and to protect the other homes from being devalued by whatever modifications you (or another homeowner) might want to undertake.
Step 2: Write Up Proposal for HOA
If you have a modification in mind for your outdoor space, you should fully detail what you’re intending to do in a written proposal to your HOA’s leadership or architectural review board, if there’s one established.
Refer to the CC&Rs and other documents like your building’s alteration agreement as you put your application together. If it’s something extensive like an outdoor deck, ask the contractor you plan to enlist in this effort to supply blueprints and other information on the project for your application.
Step 3: Wait for Project Approval
Depending on how complex your planned modification is, your HOA board may want to have its own engineers and architects review your application. You’ll then have to wait for the HOA to make its decision, which in some cases can take up to 60 days.
Patience is definitely needed for this process. Once you receive written approval from the HOA board, you may also need to obtain written permission from your neighbors. This is important because without that last part the HOA can invoke its right to deny your project if the neighbors feel there would be issues with your project such as excess construction noise.
Step 4: Obtain Work Permits
Next, depending on the work you intend to do, you may need to obtain permits from your town or city. You’ll also have to initiate work according to what the HOA sets forth, such as the days and hours when work can be done and the materials that can be used.
Not doing any of these things could result in the HOA requiring that you bring things back to the original state. If you refuse, the HOA may engage someone to do that work and then place a lien on your property for the amount of the cost of that project.
Request not approved? Be patient!
If you don’t get approval outright, you aren’t left without options. You can modify your project application or you can appeal. Take note that your appeal is going to need some backup proof to succeed, such as showing that a similar exterior modification in your community or building has already taken place or that the codes the HOA goes by happen to be outdated.
If you’re aiming to tailor the exterior of your condo or townhouse to your liking, be advised that it could be a very detailed process that will require a lot of patience and due diligence on your part when it comes to paperwork and seeking approval. But you should also look at it as a way to further deepen your ties to your home and to those you live among as well.
Christopher Smith is a freelance writer when he’s not sampling the best cuisine in his hometown of New York City. Prior to that, he worked in film and television post-production, and counts the honor of working with Eartha Kitt among his milestones.